CHICAGO, IL (FR) – The last Playboy Club in the U.S. closed its doors on July 31st of this year, marking the end of a chapter in America’s moral history. Judging from the dramatic decrease in sales of Playboy in recent years, it appears that publisher Hugh Hefner’s company is in trouble.
During the heyday of Playboy magazine in the 1970s, 22 Playboy Clubs flourished around the country, offering dining and “male entertainment” for its clientele. But changes in the business world and in standards of morality began to take their toll on the establishments before 1980. Hefner turned over the leadership of Playboy Enterprises to his daughter Christie, who tried to revive the Playboy Club division by starting five new franchises in the Midwest in the early 1980s.
Hugh Hefner presided over the closing of three of the company-operated clubs in 1986, and the Des Moines and Omaha establishments were shut down in May of this year. The last of the clubs, located in the Hilton Inn in Lansing, Michigan, once employed 45 “bunnies.” According to Time magazine (July 25, 1988), the scanty outfits and cottontails donned by the last remaining 12 bunnies were packed away for good after their last day of work in July.
But the closing of the last of the clubs is being downplayed by Playboy executives, who say that they are emphasizing other aspects of their multi-faceted business. Corporate Communications Administrator Terry Thomcison, speaking from Playboy’s corporate offices in Chicago, did admit that total sales of the magazine have dropped considerably since their peak year of 1972. In that year, total monthly sales hit 6.8 million copies; that number today has been cut to 3.7 million.
Thomcison also stated that the decision by the Southland Corporation to pull pornography from the shelves of its 7-Eleven convenience stores did have negative repercussions on Playboy. “Newsstand sales plummeted in 1986,” she related, adding that a lawsuit was filed by Playboy Enterprises against the federal government because of former Attorney General Ed Meese’s involvement in encouraging the Southland decision. Playboy won the case, but their attempt to win damage claims is still tied up in a tough court battle.
Thomcison emphasized that Playboy Enterprises is now focusing more attention on its video department, citing that America has now become a more “broadcast-oriented” society. This is the major reason given to explain the decrease in sales of the magazine since 1972.