Hershee Bar supporters came out again to the August 28, 2018 Norfolk City Council meeting to challenge the city’s plan to purchase and redevelop the spot where the Hershee Bar now stands.
This round seemed an apparent win for their opposition. Despite promises made by attendees at a recent LGBT Town Hall for everyone to bring five people to the next City Council meeting, no more than a dozen hard core supporters came out to support the bar. This number was countered by opposition led by Jackie Rochelle of the Five Points Task Force. Rochelle continued her efforts started at the July 24 council meeting to discredit the challenges and stories set forth by Hershee Bar supporters as “rhetoric” and misunderstanding blown out of proportion. Rochelle’s cold “just business” logic continues to show a failure to grasp the unique needs of the LGBT community. Her arguments also fail to address the other facts of the situation – that a marginalized Norfolk community is being displaced and that the City of Norfolk has an ethical responsibility in the matter.
Rochelle brought with her Jeff Cooper (on behalf of his father Charles Cooper) and Eric Cooper of Five Points, LLC who currently own the property where Herhee’s is located. Both owners disputed the notion that there was any homophobia involved on the part of Norfolk in the buyout. They both asserted that they are the property owners and that it was their decision to sell and that they approached the City of Norfolk to offer the sale. They also made allegations that Hershee’s has amassed a huge debt in past and ongoing rent obligations and other costs. Hershee supporters assert that the bar has been good on its rent including making rent payments that have been waived by the owner in lieu of the pending buyout. Perhaps a packet of receipts and other documentation for the next City Council meeting could help set the record straight?
Hershee supporters also rejected the idea proposed by Rochelle at the last Council meeting that local straight bars could host LGBT nights to appease displaced Hershee patrons. Straight bars and other public spaces are still not safe for many LGBT folks. Supporters backed this argument with recent news and anecdotes about LGBT folks getting harassed and even beat up at such bars and other places. They argued that Hershee’s is unique and that it provides a safe place for patrons that other types of bars and businesses cannot. They also affirmed that Hershee’s is one of two historic Lesbian bars left in Virginia.
Regardless of whether the deal made between the City of Norfolk and Five Points, LLC was made in a back room, whether homophobia was involved, and regardless of who approached whom to make the deal, the chances of Hershee’s remaining at its current location are bleak. Unless there is some breach of contract by Five Points, LLC in their lease with Hershee’s, as actual owners of the property they have final say in selling the building and in terminating Hershee’s lease. With that in mind, Hershee supporters have been adamant that if the bar can’t stay at its current location that the City of Norfolk should at least help the bar to relocate. The possibility of finding grants and raising community support has been brought up by both sides, but Hershee Bar supporters do not feel that this is enough on the part of the city. They also feel that possible new locations suggested by the city have been inadequate as they are not up to code and would require a significant financial investment to open.
The Hershee Bar provides a safe place for a marginalized Norfolk community, and a place that many patrons call home. Patrons of other displaced businesses, such as Liberty Tax Service, can easily find comparable businesses and services elsewhere. Hershee’s is unique and irreplaceable.
Bar owner, Annette Stone, was present at this City Council meeting, but did not speak in the public statements portion of the meeting. While Five Points, LLC was offered opportunity to make rebuttal statements regarding arguments made by Hershee supporters, Stone was not asked to clarify or challenge statements made by Five Points, LLC regarding allegations made regarding debt owed to them.
June 26, 2018 – Council Meeting -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WinPRy8UeQ0&feature=youtu.be
July 10, 2018 -- Council Meeting - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3IDBUYaL0Q
July 24, 2018 -- Council Meeting -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9kc8zYJMYo
August 28, 2018 -- Council Meeting -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScN2GXgTePg