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From escorts to brothel: Californian finds way in desert

Bobbi Davis was the founder and owner of the Shady Lady brothel, located about 20 miles north of Beatty on U.S. Highway 95, until it closed in December.

She was raised in California and Texas, and said Nevada spoiled her for humidity.

While living in California she operated her own escort service and at one time eight girls worked for her. Technically, her escorts were not supposed to have sex with their clients. Though doing well financially, she became concerned about the legal aspects of what she was doing and quit the business.

Moving to Nevada

Bobbi spent some time trying to decide what she wanted to do next and eventually determined that she would like to operate a legal brothel. That meant Nevada. She began looking into the matter in the early 1990s.

She talked to officials in Clark County and the first thing she was told was that prostitution wasn’t legal there but it was in the next county over, Nye County. She then talked to officials in Nye and several other rural counties where brothels were legal and learned the rules and regulations.

At first, she looked around to determine if any brothels were for sale. She spoke to Trish Rippie, a central Nevada realtor, and was told indeed there was a brothel for sale—Bobbie’s Buckeye Bar, located on the east edge of Tonopah just off U.S. Highway 6. Bobbi and her husband looked the property over. Tonopah, they reasoned, was a good place to live.

Her husband didn’t want to go too far north because of the cold, which was bad for his arthritis, and she didn’t want to be too far south because of the heat. Tonopah looked like a Goldilocks deal—not too cold, not too hot; just right. They decided to give it a try.

The asking price for the Buckeye, she recalled, was $150,000. Bobbi and her husband moved to Tonopah with the idea of purchasing the Buckeye. Meanwhile, it was suggested that the $150,000 price wasn’t firm and that there was wiggle room.

Unfortunately, Bobbi quickly learned the Buckeye was tied up in escrow. Moreover, the property was not viable as a brothel because of its location; it was too close to the highway.

There are laws requiring brothels to be a specific distance from highways (in Nye County, 300 yards), and the old bordello would have had to be moved partway up the mountainside in order to comply, which obviously was out of the question. The Buckeye had been grandfathered on the setback requirements when Bobbie Duncan was there, but never reopened following her passing.

When it became clear that she would not be able to purchase the Buckeye, Bobbi looked around for another property. She and her husband visited with Fran York about purchasing Fran’s Star Ranch, located a couple of miles north of Beatty on Highway 95. That didn’t work out, either.

As it turned out, there was undeveloped land available about 20 miles north of Beatty along Highway 95 in Sarcobatus Flat. Bobbi and her husband had seen a for sale sign when driving across the valley. The sign, they learned, was for an old school bus but they did some further investigation and found there was an acreage set far enough back from the highway that would meet with their needs and comply with the law.

Bobbi wound up buying 40 acres in Sarcobatus Flat for $11,000.

In 1992, Bobbi went through the necessary steps, making contacts and providing the necessary information to comply with all the county rules regarding operating a brothel. They drilled a well on the property, put in a septic system, and hooked onto power.

Initially, she moved in three trailers and fixed them up. She named the new brothel Shady Lady after the lyrics from an old Mills Brothers song.

Not Easy Beginnings

Bobbi pointed out a lot of people believe that opening a brothel in Nye County is like getting keys to the bank. They don’t realize that a great deal of hard work and long hours are necessary.

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” she says. “You think you’re going to get some girls and they’re going to do their thing, and you’re just going to make beaucoup amounts of money. Well, it doesn’t work that way.”

Bobbi said it took six or seven years to become really successful. Luckily, that time frame coincided with the IRS’s rule that you can have a business for five years and if it doesn’t make a profit after that time, as far as the IRS is concerned, the business is considered a hobby.

In the meantime, Bobbi and Fran York of Fran’s Star Ranch outside Beatty became friends. She talked to Fran and listened closely to everything she had to say about operating a brothel.

She took note of how Fran handled things and of what other people said about her.

Bobbi paid attention to how Fran dealt with people in Beatty and her generosity in giving to charity, taking note that Fran was highly regarded by most local residents. The same thing can be said of Bobbie Duncan in Tonopah, except Bobbi Davis hadn’t known her.

Bobbi Davis paid attention to stories about Bobbie and what people thought of her, how Bobbie ran her Buckeye Brothel and solved problems. When it came to operating her own brothel, Fran York and Bobbie Duncan became role models for Bobbi.

After she sold her place, Fran visited Bobbi’s brothel and looked around and said, “This is nice.”

To stay within the law, Bobbi couldn’t advertise so had to rely on word of mouth. That can be slow. In the first years, customer traffic depended entirely on who happened to knock on the door.

Before the year 2000, Shady Lady didn’t really have a phone that people could call them on.

At that time, as Bobbi put it, “Our phone system finally caught up with the rest of America.”

Since then, the Internet has gradually become an ever more vital dimension of the business.

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