If you've ever tossed out a few dollar bills during a show at Good Time Charlies strip club in Soldotna, some of your money has ended up in the hands of the state of Alaska.
It's the result of a strange saga that started more than 20 years ago, when the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities bought the land that Good Time Charlies sits on.
In the 1980s, the DOT started planning a project to upgrade a portion of the Sterling Highway in and near Soldotna. In 1991, work on that project began, including widening the two-lane road's shoulder.
That's when DOT bought the property beneath Good Time Charlies for $240,900, for plans to eventually expand the road to four lanes. The original plan was to demolish the strip club at 42140 Sterling Hwy. to make way for the wider road.
But that project stalled when funding dried up, said DOT spokeswoman Jill Reese. As a result, the building was never torn down as part of the would-have-been expansion, but the state kept the land. It does not own the building or Good Time Charlies itself.
Reese said that although it's allowable for a business or homeowner to remain a tenant on a piece of land until they must move to make way for a project, it's fairly uncommon that people choose to actually stick around.
"People usually want to get their business relocated," she said. "This fella preferred to stay where he is."
The unique situation of the state being landlord to a strip club is amplified by the fact that the business pays so little in rent.
Charlie Cunningham, owner of the building and the business, pays an enviable $2,490 to the department every year. That factors out to just $207.50 per month for renting the land.
He's paid that much since the DOT bought the land more than two decades ago, and the state has no way to hike the rent, even in tight times for Alaska's budget.
"Because the state did not feel that it was going to be a 20-plus-year wait (on the project), the folks that negotiated the contract at that time didn't include a mechanism for raising the rent," Reese said. "We have to go by our contract rules. Of course we would prefer to raise the rent if we could. … We thought that within a few years (of buying the land) we'd be able to do the four lanes."
She emphasized that while the department owns the land, it has nothing to do with the running of the business.
Cunningham bought the building in 1972 when it was just a bar. He was 29 years old when he opened Good Time Charlies in 1974.
"Previously it had been a strip club, and I tried everything I could to get rid of the strip club image," he said. "I opened it, hired rock music bands, country western and disco."
In 1977, he started doing wet T-shirt contests at the bar, and they were so popular that the joint eventually became a strip club once again.
"I had done everything else," he said. "And everything kinda wears out down here."
But now, the future of Good Time Charlies -- which says on its website that it's the only such business for 120 miles -- is in question again.
As the DOT seeks federal funding to move ahead with the road project in the next few years -- money the department is confident it will get, Reese said -- Good Time Charlies might finally be demolished. (The estimated cost of the road project is about $75 million.)
John Czarnezki, Soldotna's city planner, said he has worked for the city for a couple years and isn't aware of any other strip clubs closer than Anchorage, and hasn't heard interest from anyone else wanting to start one in Soldotna.
Cunningham said he probably wouldn't open another strip club in town if his closes. That's because of a rule passed more than a decade ago that he said makes it pretty tough for strip clubs to do business there.
In 2005, Soldotna adopted an ordinance that restricts strip clubs and other "adult businesses" -- including adult bookstores and adult movie theaters -- from being open past midnight.
Good Time Charlies was grandfathered in when Soldotna adopted the ordinance, and usually stays open until about 5 a.m. in the summer (and until about 2 a.m. in winter). Cunningham said it doesn't even get busy until around midnight.
He doesn't believe he'll ever retire, but thinks maybe he would open up a bar if he has to close his business. He said that over the years he has owned about a dozen other businesses, including the Alaska Riverview Lodge and Riverside House hotel.
"Soldotna has been very good to me," he said.