By Lisa Cannistraci
Henrietta Hudson has been serving the West Village as a haven for the lesbian community in NYC for almost three decades. The history of the West Village exemplifies the struggle for LGBTQ rights, and Henrietta Hudson, a lesbian-centric queer human bar that is known world-wide, has been a beacon for that cause, offering a safe space to the LGBTQ community at large.
We shuttered our doors at Henrietta Hudson on Sunday, March 15th. The decision was made a day before Governor Cuomo’s mandate as we saw the writing on the wall and could not, in good conscience, remain open. On Friday, March 13th, I called my staff in and had “the talk” about our imminent closure. Questions were asked and answered. Emotions ran high. We talked about Henrietta Hudson and what it meant to each of us. Stories were shared and tears were shed.
I assured everyone that we would, in fact, open when it was safe to do so. I stand by that statement and remain committed to do whatever it takes to reopen our sacred space. I mandated that each of the staff members apply for unemployment benefits before they started their Friday night shifts. Although they were still stunned by the information, they obliged me and applied in real time. When the NYC unemployment site crashed on Monday they called to thank me for encouraging them to be preemptive; they were now safe and cared for.
It was time to pivot to the survival of the bar. As I was about to start researching grants and loans I received a call from Erik Bottcher, chief of staff to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, asking what the council could do for us. He apprised me of an interest-free 15-year loan of up to $75,000 offered by the NYC SBS (Small Business Services) and sent me the link. I promptly applied. I found out six weeks later that my application never even made it to the review process and the funds had run out. I asked the gentleman, Michael, “Does that mean I am not getting the loan?” He replied, “Yes, you are not getting the loan.” Erik has since been very helpful in providing other resources that we are now pursuing. (The problem with any loan is that we do not have any income and therefore no way to pay it back. How can we borrow money when our business is closed?)
We have applied for the PPP with SBA but were not privy to those funds either. Even if we got a loan, which we did not, it would not be a forgivable grant unless we adhered to the very rigorous guidelines that are not friendly to establishments in NYC. I would have to offer my staff their jobs back and they would make far less than they are now making on unemployment. I refuse to hurt their quality of life for a small grant, only 25 percent of which can be used for rent. There is an additional laundry list of rules that would preclude us of any loan forgiveness.
Cut to: fundraising for the bar. With hat in hand I started a GoFundMe campaign (https://www.gofundme.com/f/henriettahudson1) to facilitate raising money to pay rent for the bar while we are closed. The response from the LGBTQ community nationally and worldwide towards saving our iconic little bar in the West Village of New York City has been monumental!
Lisa Cannistraci, co-owner of Henrietta Hudson, is a lifelong community activist. She served on Community Board 2 in the West Village for over 15 years and has been involved with hundreds of nonprofits during three decades as a fixture in her community. She will always go the distance to shed light on discrimination of any kind, and take action to try to make things better for the LGBTQ community. Her bar is known around the globe for its welcoming atmosphere and embracing all the colorful aspects of the gender-binary spectrum. It is one of NYC’s true cultural establishments.