Longtime Norfolk LGBT Hershee Bar’s future in jeopardy

NORFOLK, Va. - Walking through the doors of Hershee Bar is like entering a relic from a tougher time.

Lining the walls are symbols of the history of LGBT people, a place where lesbian women used to gather in a military town where it wasn't always acceptable to be gay.

"This is where they could come and unfortunately had to hide so-to-speak just to be themselves," said Jennifer Alomari, a longtime customer.

Now, the future of the bar is in doubt. Earlier this year, the building's owner agreed to sell it to the city, much to the surprise and sadness of the bar's owners and patrons. The bar owners don't own the building.

Now the plan is for the property owner to tear down the building and hand it over to the city.

"We were devastated. We cried. We still do every day," Alomari said.

The sale is part of efforts to spruce up the Five Points community, according to city leaders. An exact plan for the site is still being discussed, but the buildings will be demolished.

Supporters of the bar showed up to the Norfolk City Council Meeting on Tuesday night. Several speakers described the Hershee Bar as a safe haven, a community and a historic landmark for the LGBT community.

Speakers told city council the struggles they endured years ago when being gay wasn't as accepted and how the Hershee Bar was always a place they could go for support and help rather than just a place to get drinks.

Several council members thanked the speakers and expressed sympathy towards the women who spoke.

"I didn’t realize what Hershee Bar was to the community in the scope that it is," Andria McClellan, Councilwoman from Super Ward 6.

She said she doesn't know if she would have voted the same way previously if she knew the importance of the current building.

McClellan also said she would like to increase communication between the LGBT community and the city when it comes to economic development and growth.

Councilman Paul Riddick said he used to go into the Hershee Bar years ago, saying they had the best bacon cheeseburgers. He said he wants to help them as best he can.

Mayor Kenny Alexander thanked the speakers and said the economic development team will help the the business owner find a new location if the plan goes through.

"We would love to be able to keep our home where it is now. If that's not possible, we would love for the city to help in every way, including financially," Alomari said.

"I am concerned that we are moving a business that has been in the community for a long time, but I am also concerned that if the terms of the agreement are altered, what type of precedent we are setting as well?" said Councilwoman Angelia Williams Graves, Super Ward 7.

A city official said once the the land is in the possession of the city, there are no set plans for it right now.

Supporters say there's too much history to lose in the building.

"Hershee Bar is our Stonewall. New York has Stonewall. Norfolk has Hershee Bar," Alomari said.