In this new online column, we catch up with local LGBTQ business owners to see how COVID-19 is affecting them, employees, and customers. If there’s a business serving the Valley’s LGBTQ community you want an update on, let us know at [email protected] (*Editor's note: While we are placing these stories as soon as we receive them, keep in mind that during COVID-19, things can change rapidly.)
By Jeff Kronenfeld
Stacy Louis, the owner of Stacy’s @ Melrose, was glad to shut his bar in March if it meant his employees and customers were safer. He had not expected the shutdown to last this long but is in no rush to open while the threat continues to grow. Despite this, he works to stay in touch with customers through social media and online events, while organizing a group of local LGBTQ bar owners to coordinate how to handle the growing crisis for them and their employees.
Louis had hoped to open on Monday, June 15, but the pandemic’s rapid spread compelled him not to. The bar seems unlikely to open anytime soon.
The state set a new record for the biggest single-day increase in new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, June 28. That day, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 3,858 new cases and 9 new deaths, bringing the State’s total number of cases to 73,908 and deaths to 1,588.
A few months ago, Louis reached out to a dozen or so owners of LGBTQ bars around the Valley to check in on everyone. He sent a group text hoping they all could coordinate plans for reopening and share advice on preparing bars for the age of COVID-19. The group ended up discussing how to implement social distancing policies, redo layouts and show their support for the political movement galvanized by the killing of George Floyd and other people of color by the police. They also helped to lift each other’s spirits.
“Today, we’ve been jostling around ideas, joking with each other and making fun of each other, just having a great time, but I think the camaraderie is what's keeping it going for us,” Louis said.
While Louis is heartened by the widening solidarity between most of the LGBTQ bars in the Valley, he hopes the group can be sustained once the threat is passed. For him, showing a united front is about more than just surviving the current crisis.
“My main reason for doing this is COVID, but my underlying reasoning for this is that I think back to the early 80s when HIV broke out,” Louis explained. “No one in the world had anything nice — it was actually the opposite — they only had bad things to say about gay males. We still live through that trauma somewhat, but not like we did in the '80s and '90s.”
Since the order to close was issued in March, Louis has learned a lot about the Small Business Administration, paycheck loans, and related topics. First and foremost, he had to figure out how to help his employees. Most were able to obtain unemployment compensation from the state. Further, Louis got a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program that helped cover some costs as well. Finally, he supported a few employees in dire need directly.
“I'm not going to let my employees who have worked so hard to help me keep my bar what it is, I'm not going to let them go under,” Louis said.
As yet, Louis has decided against creating a GoFundMe campaign for the bar or its employees, as some businesses have done. A regular financial supporter of numerous nonprofits and local causes, Louis said he feels more comfortable giving rather than asking. None the less, he has brought in money by participating in a virtual Pride celebration and through a grant.
While he is concerned about how long he and his employees can sustain things with the bar closed, he hopes the government will extend support programs until it is possible to open safely. Until then, he urges everyone to stay safe, patient, and reach out through social media if they are missing their favorite neighborhood hangout.