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Few get into late meeting at club
By MELANIE AVE
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 27, 2000
CARROLLWOOD -- Elias Abusaid felt more like a nerd than a sophisticated club owner as he walked from person to person and car to car.
Outside AV-O2 in Carrollwood, where pink fluorescent lights glowed, Abusaid carried a clipboard and asked his would-be patrons politely, "Is your name on the list? If not, you can't come in."
It was an unusual question for the 20-somethings, many of whom had just left Ybor City and wanted to continue the night at AV-O2, which opens at 3 a.m. and features blaring techno music and colored water lights.
Abusaid was trying to obey a judge's order, handed down last week, while struggling to keep his business in business early Sunday. People could not enter the club unless they had their names, birthdates and addresses on a "shareholders" list submitted by Abusaid to the state attorney's office.
The result: Not a single paying customer made it through the door of the AV-O2 club early Sunday.
"Most people are like, "Hell, yeah I'll sign it, but what do you mean I can't come back till next week?' " Abusaid said. "It's like "Club Dead' around here. Boring as heck."
Several carloads of club-goers showed up early Sunday at AV-02, at 5226 Gunn Highway. But most were stopped at the door and asked to add their names to Abusaid's growing list so they could get inside at a later date. If he lets in people whose names are not on the shareholder registry, he could be closed down for good.
Leigh Anne Harman, 19, added her name to the list and became a new shareholder, but was disappointed to be turned away.
"If that's what you have to do to get in, fine," said Harman, of St. Petersburg. "At least it's a way to get in."
It is all part of Abusaid's assertion that AV-O2 is not a rave club, as officials contend, but a meeting of investors in his bottled water company who purchase $10 shares at the door.
He is trying to gather enough names so his once-bustling club can continue. But if Sunday's attendance was any indication, the future could be bleak.
Clarence Gardener stood outside the club with the rest of Abusaid's employees.
"Things are not looking too good," he said, considering people used to pack the parking lot and wait to get inside.
Rave clubs have been targeted by local governments and law enforcement agencies because, they say, the after-hours clubs are havens for illicit drug use.
Earlier this month, 25 people, including Abusaid, were arrested on numerous drug, alcohol and firearms charges at AV-O2.
Hillsborough sheriff's Sgt. Rod Reder said he had no comment on the requirements imposed on Abusaid to stay open or Abusaid's efforts to comply.
"We just want to make sure he isn't operating a rave club without a permit," Reder said.
Abusaid has been arrested four times and charged with operating a dance club without a permit required by county ordinance.
On Wednesday, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Walter Heinrich accepted Abusaid's argument that he operates a shareholders' meeting at AV-O2, but said the club owner must give prosecutors his list of shareholders and allow officials to do random checks inside.
Over the weekend, some of Abusaid's employees scoured Ybor City for future customers, while others roamed the parking lot of an after-hours competitor, the Tampa Tobacco Co. on N Dale Mabry Highway.
Most of the people who showed up Sunday wrote their names on the list and said they planned to come back. Abusaid said he would submit their names to prosecutors this week and the new investors would receive their stock shares whenever they return to AV-O2.
Abusaid said he hopes the club will survive, even though he has laid off several of his employees because of declining business. He plans to ask the judge to amend his order so shareholders can bring their guests to the club.
"How embarrassing is that?" Abusaid said.
"You come to a club with friends and they can't get in?"
- Staff writer David Karp contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3473 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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