By Liz Massey, January 2016 Issue. | Meet Katy June, Echo's other 2015 Leader of the Year.
If you’ve spent time in the LGBTQ community in Phoenix since the turn of the 21st century, it’s entirely likely that you’ve met, worked with or benefitted from something Stacy Louis has had a hand in.
Currently the owner of the bar Stacy’s @ Melrose on Seventh Avenue in central Phoenix, he’s worked as a bartender at several other bars, been active in LGBTQ sports and musical groups, and supported the local business alliance for the neighborhood where his business is located.
Yet, despite this record of intense local involvement, Louis is modest about his record as a leader.
“I’m a leader because people around me say that I am,” he said.
If that is the case, there are a lot of people who are willing to validate that sentiment for Louis.
He arrived in Phoenix in 1999, ditching the cold winters of the Eastern Seaboard for Arizona’s warmer, drier climate. He worked as a bartender at Amsterdam, and elsewhere, pitching in with contests and fundraising efforts when possible.
He’s also sung with the Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus for the past 16 years and served on the organization’s board. Additionally, he’s served on the board of the Phoenix Unified Gay Bowling Alliance (PUGBA), and has represented Arizona during four consecutive Gay Games as a billiards player, bringing home silver and bronze medals from three of them.
According to Kenneth Hoffman, the director of PUGBA’s Phoenix Regional International Tournament (PRIT), there’s a single phrase that described Louis’ approach to supporting community organizations and businesses.
“‘Let me see what I can do’ – these are Stacy’s famous last words before he works his magic and makes something happen to help out your organization or whip up a special donation for your event,” Hoffman said.
Following In Family Footsteps
For those who know Louis’ backstory, it comes as no surprise he’s a bar owner who’s active in his community. His parents, immigrants to the United States from Cyprus, owned a series of bars and restaurants in Newport News, Va., when Louis was growing up, and nurtured their clientele by providing a welcoming atmosphere to all who entered their front door.
“Mom and dad were always welcoming customers, trying to make them feel comfortable,” he recalled.
In addition to fostering an atmosphere of friendliness, his parents also looked out for their patrons – including some who were gay, Louis said he realized in retrospect.
“When you entered my parents’ bar, it was long but not wide, and there was a big booth off to one side, which my dad would reserve on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays for the same five guys,” Louis recalled. “I figured out later he was protecting those five gay patrons from being bothered by reserving that table.”
While Louis gained some of his business acumen by working for his parents as he was growing up, he also learned business skills through jobs managing Steak & Ale restaurants, working as the branch manager of a bank and working for other gay-owned businesses after moving to Phoenix. Louis always knew business ownership was a possibility for him, even though it didn’t come to fruition until he bought Stacy’s @ Melrose in 2013.
“I’m a self-made man,” he said. “I knew I could do it [own a business], but I hadn’t found the right opportunity until the Melrose property became available.”
Building Up The Community
Once he opened the doors to his bar, Louis set about supporting the burgeoning business district around it, which he saw as the “core gay community.”
“Melrose is the classic example of a gay district, interwoven with niches. We have antique shops, boutiques, lots of mom-and-pop shops,” he said. “I love it.”
Deb Stroinski, vice president of Scott’s Coach Works, a specialty repair shop for luxury automobiles located in Melrose, said Louis’ involvement on the Seventh Avenue Merchants Association (SAMA), including a stint as membership director, had provided fresh ideas and fresh energy for improving the area.
“Stacy leads by example,” she said. “He comes to meetings, engages in discussions, and volunteers in many capacities. He understands that the more successful each individual business is, the better the Melrose district is for everyone. … He is so friendly and willing to help that he introduces himself to new business owners on the street and encourages them to become members.”
Louis also uses his business to support LGBTQ community groups and initiatives. A variety of groups, from the gay chamber to sports teams, use the site as a meeting place, and each month, the establishment donates at least $500 to an LGBTQ organization, or another worthy cause, such as fundraisers to combat autism and leukemia.
Hoffman said, “Stacy is the first to jump in to support a fundraiser, support an organization or to sponsor an event - that’s why you see his logo everywhere.”
Taking Care of Business
Stacy’s @ Melrose, which Louis described as a “1960s/70s speakeasy style dance bar,” has thrived in the Melrose district, even as the total number of LGBTQ bars in the Valley has declined. Advancements in LGBTQ equality and acceptance formed part of the reason for the decline, but not all of it, he said.
“If you don’t make improvements to what you have, and don’t work to make it better, people won’t come back,” he asserted. “If you don’t take an interest in your patrons, they won’t take an interest in you.”
Louis has led by example in this arena, too.
In 2013, he was faced with a scenario that involved derogatory comments by a gay man toward a lesbian customer.
“I essentially said, ‘I will not tolerate people talking bad about others in my bar,” he recalled. “We are all here for the same reason … we are all in this together.”
The incident laid the foundation for what Louis refers to as a “no label bar.” And, as a result, his business continues to bridge the gap between old and the young, men and women, LGBT and straight communities.
“I operate under the business model of no label, no division, no color, no difference,” he said.
And that makes him a leader as well.
Looking to the future, Louis plans to stay active in community organizations, SAMA, and continue to build Melrose as a place to work, play and shop. He has also thought about expanding his business empire by planting an establishment similar to Stacy’s @ Melrose elsewhere, such as in San Diego’s Hillcrest district or in Palm Springs.
“I want to share the wealth,” he explained. “I want them to have there what we have here.”
Until that time, Louis will continue to run his Phoenix bar the way he always has –
as a place where his friends are welcome.
“I don’t take an interest in customers because it’s just my job, I do it because I love it,” he said. “It’s important to be a real human being and not a facade. My customers have become my friends over the years, and I want to help them. If I could help everyone in the world, I would.”