Charlotte’s LGBTQ bars face uncertain times amid COVID-19 crisis

Owners say they’re attempting to keep employees working

By Jessie K Weir (they/them/theirs) | Contributing Writer

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Local LGBTQ bar and club owners in Charlotte are responding with a mix of worried uncertainty and optimism as they and their employees face uncertain times ahead. Like all bars and clubs across the state, local queer bars too are shuttered, the result of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order closing all bars and restaurants, with the exception of take-out and delivery food service.

The closure of LGBTQ bars and clubs is particularly hard-hitting in a community that has often relied on them as safe spaces of refuge from an often hostile world. LGBTQ bars have been a gathering point for the community since the beginning of our modern community’s history, reaching as far back as the 1920s.

Local bar owners are speaking out about the crisis — and how it will affect their patrons and their employees, many whose only source of income is their work at the bar or club.

Kevin Cooper (he/him) is one of two co-owners and the manager of Bar Argon and Sidelines on South Blvd. He says the forced closure has definitely hurt his staff, some of whom he’s been able to give hours working by coming in to do some deep cleaning of both spaces.

Cooper’s desire to keep his employees working is shared by Timothy Lee (he/him), who recently purchased The Woodshed, near the airport, last August. Lee says he has goals he wants to get accomplished while the bar is required to stay closed. Staff members, he says, will be offered hourly work so they can survive the economic downturn hitting the local community.

Lee is sure his bar will be able to stay afloat until it is safe to gather again, but fears for how patrons of the bar will deal with not having a space to be openly and proudly LGBTQ.

Lee’s concerns for patrons was also shared by Bar Argon’s and Sidelines’ Cooper, as well as Tiffany Storm (she/her), owner of Chasers, in Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood.

But Storm is also concerned for some bars’ ability to stay in business. Some bars, she says, might not survive being closed for more than a couple months, especially if a bar owner has a landlord that isn’t willing to put a hold on rent until they’re able to open and generate revenue again.

Luckily, Cooper, Lee, and Storm all say they plan to return to business as usual once it is safe for us to all gather and enjoy the company of our community and its nightlife again.

What that nightlife and community looks like when the crisis ends is another question. All three bar owners say they’re concerned about getting consistent business once they are able to open again for business. With COVID-19 keeping businesses closed, it’s not only their employees out of work — many across the entire community are suddenly finding themselves unemployed. After facing a shock to our system like this, will folks have the means or ability to go out like they once did?

If our local queer bars are to not only survive and but thrive once this crisis is over, then those of us with the means will have to be intentional about prioritizing where we spend our going-out dollars.


Featured Photo: A photo of a usual weekend night out at Bar Argon. Courtesy Bar Argon/Facebook.


ABOUT THE WRITER

Jessie K Weir (they/them/theirs) is a local artist in Charlotte, N.C., who’s major focus is in creative writing like poetry and narrative writing. They are also the author of the collection of poetry “No More Corks.”


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