By Jeff Balke
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The past few years, 19th Street Association merchants had prided themselves on their unique promotional events. They hosted a New Orleans-style street party to draw people to their "anti-strip center," an eclectic combination of decades-old antique stores, hip art galleries and ethnocentric gift shops. Previous festivals had brought art cars, dance troupes, bands and fire twirlers, with attendance steadily growing.
They usually pitched the events around themes that jibed with their unusual mix of the dozen or so stores just west of Yale -- including the home of the bulletproof hair, the Venus barber shop and a nameless junk store open at random hours that some refer to as Joe's Place.
This year, the group wanted a good hook to really attract crowds.
Jeff Law, an association member who owns the October Gallery, thought that throwing the party on 6 p.m. Friday evening, June 28 -- the night before the Pride Parade -- marked an excellent opportunity for a gay event. Like many homosexuals, Law had opened a shop in the Heights, an area some thought might be the next center for the gay and lesbian community, now that Montrose had become more and more straight. Here was a chance to recognize the area's changing demographics.
Other owners balked, demanding that the event be more representative of the community as a whole, without excluding anybody. The idea, after all, was to get as many people to discover the area as possible. "We wanted the events to coincide and feed off each other, but not be a gay issue," says 19th Street antique dealer Derald Jaynes, who has tended bar at gay hangouts like EJ's and Mary's. "They just wanted [gays] in the store and no one else."
One of the most popular parties in the past revolved around a pink flamingos theme, where the street was decorated with the kitschy lawn ornaments. After some heated bickering at a recent association meeting, Sheila Amalfi of Chippendale's came up with what appeared to be the perfect compromise: a Pink Poodle Promenade. Putting on a parade of decked-out mutts would allow gay owners to emphasize the pink label, while older antique dealers could claim it was an icon from the '50s, since many of the items they sell originated in that era.
"Don't pretend you're gay-friendly for the gay press," says Law. He thinks it's two-faced for the association to get gay magazines to publicize the event, then promote themselves as something more mainstream. Having people bring poodles dyed in pink or wearing pink ribbons just doesn't cut it for him. So when he was unable to block the compromise, he put rainbow-colored tutus on the poodles in the postcards used for event advertising.
"Look at these," Jaynes says, pointing to one of the cards. "It's an obvious statement."
Of course Law has another reason to be wary of the poodle theme. When he put on a doggy drag queen contest a few years ago, one of the contestants met with an unfortunate accident. "The poor thing was attached to a beach umbrella in costume and died," he says. The dog ran out into the street, in a skirt and with umbrella in tow, and got hit by a car. "I'm not sure the woman who came up with [the promenade] knew about the death," he says. (A bulldog won the contest by default.)
While other businesses plan to stage live music and shows, Law will be holding a drag queen contest at his gallery to protest the more inclusive theme. "I was playing with the idea of giving [the drag queens] a discount if they kissed one of the antique dealers," he says.
A split along sexual-preference lines may appear somewhat predictable, but this feud found its way into ethnic arguments as well.
Macario Ramirez of Casa Ramirez Folk Art Gallery says he's been snubbed by organization and promenade planners, and didn't even know of the event until he saw flyers distributed to other stores. "I don't like this goddamn 19th Street Association," says Ramirez. "They're excluding minorities."
So Ramirez will be staging his own "Summer Time" protest event that night, with food and music by Jesus Y Maria's Bossa II. "We will participate because the street belongs to all of us," he says. "We're tolerant of you, but don't come in and run things."
Law views the friction as old world versus new. "There's a bit of a dichotomy, since we were the first not to have antiques," he says. "It's difficult to bring the two together."
Perhaps it's fitting, then, that what was meant to be an organized community event has devolved into a collection of individual shows, protests and agendas. As Law says, "This is something only the Heights could come up with."