San Francisco's LGBTQ businesses struggle to survive coronavirus pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The Stud bar at the corner of 9th and Harrison streets in San Francisco has been welcoming the LGBTQ community South of Market since 1966.

"There's not that many places in San Francisco like The Stud that can give people permission to not only be themselves, but to imagine who they could be," said Honey Mahogany, co-owner of the The Stud.

Known for its drag shows, The Stud has been a welcoming space for the community for generations. It survived disco, but it couldn't outlive the novel coronavirus.

The Stud is just one of the many queer spaces that are wondering if the pandemic will kill their business.

"No one saw COVID coming, no one knew that we would be stuck here months at a time with zero income, and absolutely no idea of when that would change," said Mahogany.

The Stud closed its doors when shelter-in-place orders went into effect in March and when there weren't able to pay rent, they locked them for good at end of May.

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"We made the tough decision of closing, hopefully so we can fight another day," said Mahogany.

The Stud is looking for a new home, one that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to open.

"Every single option that we looked at was going to cost an investment of at least $700,000," said Mahogany.

"For me it was the first time I ever went to a bar, and I didn't have to pretend to be something I wasn't," said local drag icon Heklina.

She started working at The Stud in the 1990s.

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"Coincidentally I quit drinking when I started working at The Stud, like right then," said Heklina.

She took her experience there and opened the OASIS nightclub around the corner.

She says the club will survive, but it will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in income.

"We luckily got the payroll protection plan from the government, so we've been able to pay our employees," said Heklina.

The Payroll Protection Plan will help a big bar like the Oasis, but not a small one like Aunt Charlie's Lounge, the last LGBTQ bar in the Tenderloin neighborhood.

Bar manager Joe Mattheisen said the neighborhood had a thriving LGBTQ population at one time

"In the '70s it was sort of like The Castro, if you go in one bar and didn't see what you liked, you just go next door and go into another," said Matheisen.

The owner said a PPP loan wasn't enough and decided the bar would close on August 1.

DJ Myles Cooper wasn't going to let that happen. He started a gofundme campaign to save the bar, hoping to raise a $100,000. It did, and more.

"We need to save spaces like this because they serve the community every single day, it is not just during pride month. It is not just an event; it is really an anchor for this community," said Cooper.

Bars have historically been a safe space for LGBTQ people to meet and socialize.

"I met my husband here 30 years ago," said Bruce Jennison, one of the owners of the Lone Star Saloon. He said he isn't just worried about the current closure of his business.

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The annual Pride Parade and Festival has been cancelled. So have the Folsom Street and Dore Alley Street fairs. The events usually bring in big crowds to area bars.

"They are a really big part of our business and really what kind of keep us through the rest of the year," said Jennison.

"Maybe up to 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 people come in and out of the bar," said Lex Montiel, owner of the SF Eagle. He says the loss of those big events, will add up to big losses.

But not just for his bar, but for the many nonprofit organizations that use his bar to raise money for charity.

"I think that the most important thing that we lost is touch with our community, and our mission of providing a safe space for everybody," said Monteil.

"We just need to move forward, but we need to reopen a business, if we don't I don't know what is going to happen," added Jennison.

The city is allowing outdoor bars to reopen as soon as June 29. Bars are scheduled to reopen citywide in mid-August.

Many bars have set up GoFundMe accounts to help pay their employees that are not covered under the federal Paycheck Protection Plan, or to ensure their future.

Here are the links to the fundraising campaigns of the bars featured in this story:

The Stud

Aunt Charlie's Lounge

SF Oasis

Lone Star Saloon

SF Eagle
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