MADISON, WISCONSIN – The owner of Madison’s new Snuggle House has decided to shut it down just three weeks after it opened, choosing to pack up his pillows and beds under intense scrutiny from city officials who questioned whether the place was a front for a brothel.
The Snuggle House, part of a growing trend of touch therapy establishments and cuddle parties around the United States, was located above a bar about a block from the state Capitol. It offered customers an hour of cuddling in a bed with a professional snuggler for $60.
The business announced its closure on Facebook. Timothy Casper, the owner’s attorney, confirmed the closure to The Associated Press, saying Matthew Hurtado was sick of the city harassing him and negative publicity.
“He’s tired of people taking potshots at him,” Casper said. “He doesn’t need that.”
The place got off to a rough start, even in uber-liberal Madison. The business’s original October opening got pushed back to mid-November after city officials raised concerns about whether it was really a front for prostitution and the potential for sexual assaults. They also questioned why Hurtado, who has filed for bankruptcy twice, had no business plan and no business insurance.
Hurtado developed a policy manual forbidding sex during snuggle sessions, installed security cameras and a panic button in each snuggle room, and promised to perform background checks on clients, assistant city attorney Jennifer Zilavy said.
Meanwhile, police said they planned to run a sting operation at the business, sending in an officer posing as a customer to test the establishment’s boundaries, and Zilavy began work on a new ordinance regulating the business. A number of media outlets ran stories about the city’s concerns.
Casper said the place had two or three dozen customers in the three weeks it was open, but that Hurtado had had enough. “All of this is so slanted and incorrect,” Casper said.
Police Lt. David McCaw said the agency never received any complaints alleging criminal activity at the Snuggle House. He denied that officers had harassed the business, saying on its face, at least, the business was legal.
Zilavy also denied hounding the business. But she said the city had to make sure the Snuggle House didn’t devolve into a house of prostitution.
Casper said Hurtado didn’t open the business to make money. He got the idea when he was in the hospital suffering from Lyme’s disease and people were poking and prodding him. “He often thought,” Casper said, “it would be nice if someone came in and gave him a hug.”