VALLEY BROOK — As you head east on SE 59 from Interstate 35, it doesn't take long to know you've arrived in a special place.
After driving a half-mile from the busy interstate, you're confronted with a towering video billboard, a sign for Little Darlings, the biggest strip club in Valley Brook. It's the first thing visitors see when they enter the town of about 760 people.
Drive a little farther and you'll see the Valley Brook police station and town hall. The two buildings are next to each other on SE 59, nestled between the two strip clubs and other small businesses.
Another few hundred feet and you'll see Joe's Addiction, a coffee shop that caters to convicted felons and others living on the fringes of society. The shop's clientele come from a mobile home park filled with sex offenders, across the street from the town, and from homeless camps in a field just to the north of Valley Brook.
A few hundred feet more and you're out of Valley Brook, but not before passing Fancy's, the other strip club in town.
Stuck in the middle of all of this — in between the fields filled with homeless camps and the businesses along SE 59 — are hundreds of residents. Many of the homes are dilapidated and have been condemned. Most look every bit of their age. Others are well-kept, some with extensive outdoor decor to match the season.
Stray cats roam the town's streets, hiding behind old appliances and lawn furniture when strangers pass by.
Many residents interviewed by The Oklahoman have been here for decades, some for their entire lives. They choose to live here, charmed by a combination of Valley Brook's small-town feel and its low cost of living. Others are just passing through and likely will be gone in a year or two.
Some, however, are concerned about the future of Valley Brook, more than bothered by a coffee shop that caters to convicted felons and the homeless and by the looming prospect of an all-nude strip club coming to town.
A ‘quiet' place
Jim Watts, who lives with his wife, Donna, on Pat Avenue, has called Valley Brook home since the early 1970s. He said the town always has been “rowdy” and that he used to fight with “drunks all the time” in front of his house.
Watts and his wife raised four daughters in Valley Brook. One daughter lives next door with her husband and young daughter.
“I know everybody on this street,” Watts said. “If anybody has any problems, they come to me. If I see they're in trouble, I'll go to them.”
Watts and his wife attend town hall meetings and are active in local politics. They care about the town, although Watts wishes it would be annexed by Oklahoma City so something would be done about all of the dilapidated properties in Valley Brook.
Yet, when asked about his plans for the future, Watts answers quickly and emphatically.
“I'll be here,” he said. “I'll die here.”
Rusty Wilson, who lives with wife, Jamie, and their young daughter, described Valley Brook in a way that might seem odd for a town known for debauchery and strip clubs.
“Quiet,” he said. “It's a small town ... and it seems that way, too. You don't get a lot of the city noise that you get in other parts of town ... it's quiet over here.”
“We all know each other, we take care of each other,” Rusty Wilson said. “If we go out of town, we watch each other's houses.
Jamie Wilson grew up in Valley Brook and has lived in town her entire life. She and her husband live next door to Jim and Donna Watts — her parents.
“It was quiet growing up here,” she said. “We used to be able to walk around the corner to the store without (our parents) worrying about us. I felt a lot safer when I was younger, though.”
The young mother said she wishes Valley Brook town officials were more involved and would “enforce things more.”
“I remember, when I was growing up, the mayors had a lot more to do with keeping (the town) up,” Jamie Wilsons said. “Now, it just seems like it's falling apart.”
The Wilsons, who are both in their early 30s, say they've thought about leaving Valley Brook — frequently. But they stay.
“We look all the time,” Rusty Wilson said. “And it stinks, because we own our house ... we're young and we have the opportunity to be a young family and grow.
“But we're being held back because of the situation ... the town has put us in. I don't want to bash them ... but it's like they refuse to grow. They refuse to get better, so we have to suffer for that.”
Jamie Wilson said the couple tried to get a loan in the past — to remodel their home and make it larger — but that “we got turned down by every bank because of the properties around here.”
Pat Jenkins has lived in Valley Brook for the past two decades. Like others living here, she said it's the small town feel that attracted her.
Jenkins, 60, said she knows most of her neighbors and can tell little bits of trivia about each of them. She said she doesn't have any plans to leave Valley Brook, a place she fled to from fast-growing Moore.
When she first bought her modest home in Valley Brook, many of her neighbors were single like her, giving the street a festive vibe.
“I was raised in a little bitty town of 700 people,” Jenkins said. “So, it kind of reminded me of the little bitty town I grew up in.”
But for others, recent developments in Valley Brook have them questioning where the town is headed.
A trio of high-profile issues are boiling in Valley Brook, giving residents of this small town plenty to think about.
• Town leaders are bringing an all-nude strip club to the 160-acre town, which already is known in the Oklahoma City metro area as a haven for topless bars.
• A coffee shop that caters to convicted felons, homeless men and women and others on society's fringes is flourishing.
• Across the street from the city, a mobile home park is filled with sex offenders with nowhere else to live.
Watts said he's concerned about what will come with an all-nude club, which would be only the third one operating in Oklahoma right now. There is one in Lawton and another near Tulsa.
“I don't want it here at all,” he said. “Prostitution. Drunks. People roaming our streets. … No, I don't want it here at all.”
Rusty Wilson also is concerned about the possible all-nude club, primarily because it will allow 18-year-olds to enter, instead of being a 21-and older establishment.
“I remember what it was like to be a kid,” he said. “You get a bunch of young, underage guys running up and down our streets, it's going to start causing vandalism. It's going to bring our crime rate up. I think the crime rate's going to skyrocket.”
Valley Brook Police Chief Mike Stamp said the town's police department is ready to handle the new club.
“I've been out here 22 years,” Stamp said. “We've had as many as five clubs going at one time. As far as me personally, I don't think it's anything we haven't dealt with in the past. That's what we have out here. Anybody who knows Valley Brook knows that they're pretty much known for their strip clubs.”
The all-nude strip club is the least of Jenkins' worries. She said Joe's Addiction is the one business in town that makes her nervous. The shop offers group meetings for addicts and alcoholics.
“When the coffee shop came in, and started letting the sex offenders (come around), they started walking the streets, like around the time I would walk in the morning,” she said.
“The sex offenders are the worst part. One time I had to come in with my granddaughter because one of them was walking around like he always did.”
Jamie Zumwalt, the owner of the coffee shop, publicly has defended her business, saying it discriminates against nobody. In addition to coffee, the shop offers its customers ministry-type services, including four weekly group meetings for addicts and alcoholics.
Jenkins claims to have seen Damien Jefferson Muncie — who was shot and killed by police after he broke into town hall and scrawled letters on the wall with his own blood — shortly before his death.
Muncie, who was 36 and claimed to have a long history of substance abuse, lived in a mobile home park that houses sex offenders and other felons.
The park, which is operated by Hand Up Ministries, is roughly a quarter-mile east of Valley Brook.
“He had just been walking through here just the day before,” Jenkins said.