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Topless Bar Loses Its Shirt to a Truck Stop

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The dirty dancing already is gone from the corner of B and Figueroa streets in Wilmington. And a year from now, the way Rocco (Rocky) Grieco figures it, he’ll really be cleaning up at that corner.

In more ways than one.

By then, Grieco said, Shipwreck Joey’s, a once-popular topless bar that closed in July, will be just a memory. In its place will be a diner.

On the dusty lot next door, there will still be trucks, Grieco said. But instead of using the lot for parking, truckers will be using Grieco’s new six-stall truck wash and scales.

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And if all goes as planned, the 37-year-old San Pedro real estate agent will have several indoor showers on the site, another feature of a deluxe truck stop for drivers who once cooled their heels between hauls with beers at the bar.

Grieco’s plans for the 55,000-square-foot property that straddles the east end of the Harbor Freeway follow the closure in early July of its only tenant, Shipwreck Joey’s, which opened in the 1970s. On Aug. 1, Grieco signed a 10-year lease for the property.

Shipwreck Joey’s, for years a landmark of sorts in the Harbor area, was hard to miss. With a bright orange exterior, opaque windows and the form of a bare-breasted blonde beckoning clientele, the bar was an eyesore to many, eye-catching to all.

It also was the latest in a list of tenants that occupied the 4,000-square-foot Art Deco-style building constructed in the 1930s. And like the others, from the original Bayview diner to a later nightclub to a country and Western bar, Shipwreck Joey’s did great business for years.

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But as shipyards closed in the port and other topless bars drew away customers, business at Shipwreck Joey’s began sinking in the late 1980s. And when the owners of the huge lot that housed the bar put the land up for sale in 1988, leaving its future in doubt, it seemed just a matter of time before Shipwreck Joey’s would close.

Grieco thought about leasing the site and opening his own topless bar. But that idea did not sit well with his wife, Joanne, he said.

“I went to a couple of topless places to see what their business was like. And I found they made big money,” Grieco said. “But when I told my wife I was thinking about opening a topless place myself, she said, ‘You’re crazy.’

“She was against it from Day One.”

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After considering other possibilities, including a small shopping center, Grieco said he came up with the idea of converting the property into a sort of super truck stop after watching the number of trucks along Figueroa Street and the Harbor Freeway.

“I counted 1,000 trucks going to and from the port in one hour. I know that sounds unbelievable, but it’s true,” Grieco said. And that number, he said, gave him a new idea.

“A full-service truck stop” is how Grieco describes it.

The plans, Grieco said, call for converting the old bar into a 1950s-style diner that is convenient for truckers but that caters to a broader clientele.

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“I’m not going to make it too nice so truckers won’t come in, or too rough so yuppies won’t come in,” Grieco said. “I just want a place where I could bring my kids for breakfast.”

In addition to the diner, Grieco said, the property will include a snack bar, six truck-wash stalls, trucking scales and several showers. “In the Harbor area, there’s no place for these guys to go in and just shower unless they rent a hotel room,” Grieco said. “These guys need these kinds of services.”

Maybe so, but even some of Grieco’s friends wonder how he would have made out if he had opened a new topless bar after the close of Shipwreck Joey’s.

“I’ve got mixed emotions,” said one friend, Robert Castagnola, 31, a Teamster who once frequented Shipwreck Joey’s. “I think he’ll do well, but I tried to persuade him to go with a topless place because he could have made a fortune with the right management.”

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Then again, Castagnola said, it was Grieco’s decision. And Grieco, owner or co-owner of several apartment buildings in San Pedro and Wilmington, has shown over the years that he knows something about business. “Rocco does have a nose for money,” Castagnola said.

So will Castagnola be as likely to visit his friend’s diner as a strip bar?

“Yeah, I’ll go there,” he said. “You know Italians, we stick together.”


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