“Hey, remember, a recession is a gay man’s vacation.”
BREAKFAST AT BERGDORF’S
“The bar scene hasn’t been affected at all,” said Andrew Suarez, a 25-year-old waiter and Marymount student whom we found shopping at Bergdorf Goodman Men’s on Monday afternoon who was telling us about his weekend of drinking in Hell’s Kitchen. “I was just partying this weekend for my birthday? And it was absolutely, completely, you-couldn’t-walk-through-it packed.”
Nor, he said, have he or his friends stopped shopping.
“I definitely still have to shop” he said. “It’s got to be done. We can’t let it affect the way we live. I’m a shopper, and most of my gay friends are.”
“I haven’t bought a full-priced piece of merchandise in the last two months because there are so many sales,” said trim 28-year-old Ken Gillett, who was shopping at Bloomingdale’s on Monday afternoon, where we heard a hyped-up remix of Madonna’s “Give it 2 Me” blasting over the store’s speakers. “I’ve actually been shopping more, I think!”
“It’s a better time to shop,” said John Traynor, a 42-year-old human relations recruiter who lives on the Upper West Side. “You might as well buy stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to buy.”
And the sales are everywhere: 40 percent off a John Varvatos white button-down listed at $225; 50 percent off a black Polo sports coat for $1,195; 40 percent off a Marc by Marc Jacobs $198 blue V-neck sweater; 40 percent off a $395 Michael Kors zip-up turtleneck sweater. And for the investment-minded, deep discounts on the coveted embroidered and individually numbered Vilebrequin seashell swim trunks at Barneys!
At the Bergdorf Goodman Men’s store on Fifth Avenue, sales associates in the building said the second floor, which is the Wall Street man’s floor of choice—full of trousers and suits and ties—has been a ghost town since the recession began. Meanwhile, the building’s third floor, which features labels like Alexander McQueen and Thom Browne—a salesman described the floor as being “owned” by the gays—has been bustling the same as ever.
“I just spent $2,000, but I’d like to keep that to once a month now,” said Paul Vinci, a 43-year-old insurance man from Chelsea who was shopping for himself and his partner. “It used to be $10,000 a month, so we’ve scaled back.”
Items included in his shopping spree: two black beaded bracelets for $750; a Jil Sander sweater; a Dolce & Gabanna sweater; a pair of slacks; and shoes.
RECESSIONOMICS FOR GAYS
The day Lehman Brothers fell, the downtown-demimonde nightlife promoter Chi Chi Valenti, the genius behind such New York legends as Night of a Thousand Stevies and Click+Drag, wrote a note to her message board.
“If there’s one part of this week’s economic implosion that sure smells like a silver lining from here, it is the prospect of we New Yorkers finally getting a few of our clubs and downtown streets back,” she wrote. “Some of New York’s most enduring clubs have been born in dark financial times indeed, from the Mudd Club during New York City’s near-bankrupcy [sic] to our own Jackie 60 during the LAST Bush Presidency/Recession. High commercial rents were among the prime villains that drove creative clubs and nights virtually OUT of Manhattan in the last five years, and hopefully a poorer city government will no longer have the resources to spend on venue harassment. Throw in almost certain Cabaret Law reform, and a sense of impending doom. Can a new Golden Age in clubs be far behind?”
During better times, Michael Formika Jones said, “they’ll fine you for everything. Booty on the bar. Having candles lit. Being overcapacity by 10 people. Not having paper towels behind the bars. If you’re a busy gay club, you’re getting fined for every little thing so should shut you down. But they’ve got other things to worry about. This is good times for us!”
We checked in with John D’Emilio, professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago, and author of Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970, to see if Ms. Valenti might be proven right.
“In the ’70s, for the first time in New York, investing in gay businesses such as a bar or a disco or a bathhouse could actually be a profitable and an attractive investment for gay men because they’re not dealing with either the police or organized crime,” he said. “In New York, there were more gay bars opening and gay bathhouses and the disco scene develops by ’73 or ’74. The city was in economic crisis, but gay male society was thriving.”
And in Chicago and San Francisco, he’s studied surges in gay venues and drag performances during the real Great Depression. So, now?
“I’d say it’s intriguing, but I don’t know if you can draw a big conclusion about it.”