As far as Lowrie was now concerned, his wild times were behind him. He'd established his role in the family business as the responsible bean counter and found the woman he'd start his own family with. Then, just as the couple was to be married, Hal was diagnosed with lung cancer. The disease moved through him swiftly, killing him in the spring of 1994. He was 58. Lowrie's father was dead; his mother, Lu, he barely spoke to; and his only sister, took off for California long ago. The family business that had taken such a toll on Lowrie was now tossed into his lap. Still, he decided that he wouldn't sell it off. Instead, he set out to run a respectable strip-club enterprise.
Fifteen-year-old Lowrie had used Hal's belt for a tourniquet and saved his father's life; now, at 28, he found himself applying a tourniquet to his father's business. While he was on his deathbed, Hal was indicted by the feds for racketeering, conspiracy to launder money, and enticing people to cross state lines to commit prostitution near his Brooklyn, Illinois, clubs. Lowrie maintained Hal's innocence, despite a guilty plea from the former police chief-among others-that followed Hal's death. Shortly thereafter, Lowrie settled with a $2 million fine. Then he went to work.
The employees mourned Hal, but there was also a sense of relief that his legal problems no longer threatened to topple the business. "I never considered selling the business," recalls Lowrie. "My dad was determined to make this a career where his employees could support their families, and I had to continue that."
But he could change the way the business operated. Hal ran the business the way he ran his family, concerned more with partying than profits. Lowrie, on the other hand, was determined to manage with discipline and order. He applied basic business practices to the strip clubs, like computerized cash registers and payroll systems. Unburdened by Hal's need to be everyone's pal, Lowrie tightened the ranks and the bars flourished. Lowrie kept track of every penny. No more freebies. "Some of my dad's old friends would say, 'You know your dad would sit here and drink with me,'" Lowrie says. "I know it disappointed some of them; my dad could sit at the bar all night, but that's not me. I'm the business guy."