NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The owner of the Hershee Bar in Norfolk claims the city hasn’t treated her right in forcing her out, and hasn’t properly paid her for the inconvenience of moving.
The iconic location, considered Hampton Roads’ only lesbian bar, is set to close October 31.
Here’s the issue: the owner of the property is selling to the City of Norfolk, but Norfolk, which is the buyer, claims the building must be demolished first.
And that’s created potential legal issues.
On Sewells Point Road in Norfolk, the Hershee Bar has stood for 35 years.
It’s empty until 4 p.m. when it opens. But on October 31, it’ll close down for good.
“I have been here for 35 years with Billy Tindal, and we are being thrown out like trash,” said Hershee Bar owner Annette Stone. “It does not feel right.”
Stone has hired attorney Brian Kunze with the Waldo & Lyle law firm to fight back against Norfolk, which he argues is violating state code requiring relocation assistance for business owners like Stone.
“The code says if anybody has to move their business because of an acquisition by a state agency, including the City of Norfolk, then they have to pay the relocation fee,” Kunze said.
Kunze says Norfolk’s offer to buy the property hinges on all the buildings in the block be demolished first, including the bar.
Norfolk’s Corporate Communications Director Lori Crouch emailed 10 On Your Side this response:
“The owners of the bar have been offered more than the law requires and the City will continue to help with finding a new location.”
Kunze disagrees, and suggests a sneaky end run around state code by Norfolk that won’t have to pay the relocation costs if the building is demolished before taking possession, and Stone feels the same way.
“I don’t think that it is legal or morally correct. I don’t think it is correct to treat small business this way,” Stone said.
Stone says the city has offered her possible sites for relocation, but not any money, and it takes money she argues, “putting in a cooking hood, handicapped bathroom, sink for the bar area. It would be a lot to do that.”
Stone goes further, “it makes us feel very disposable and very discriminated against … I feel like they would not do this against just anybody … I feel like they are trying to sanitize the area, and they are targeting us … because this is a bar that caters to gays and lesbians and gay men and transgender and bisexuals and even people from the neighborhood come here to eat.”
10 On Your Side reached out to Crouch on that issue too. Crouch responded:
“The purchase of the building has nothing to do with Norfolk’s support of the LGBTQA community. The city has long-supported the LGBTQA community. We sponsor Pridefest & the Block Party, one of the largest Pride festivals in the country. Slover Library hosts Drag Storytime and was the location for the Pride press conference when the Supreme Court ruled on same-sex marriage. Slover regularly hosts an LGBTQA display. The Norfolk Police Department has a LGBTQA liaison officer who works directly with the community through recruitment and other areas. Waterside District hosts drag brunch, Bearded Bird hosts drag bingo. Our city is home to diverse and inclusive businesses that welcome everyone.”
Crouch added that the City Council recently appointed Nicole Carry, Norfolk’s first openly gay council member, to fill the Ward 1 seat.
Stone knows she may have to move, but wants reasonable financial help to start again somewhere else, “It’s been hard on all of us. I’ve never had to go to a cardiologist before, and now I have to go every month. It has been terrible … it’s been hard.”
Where does this end? Based on history, if the city ends up going to court, and the city loses, it will cost Norfolk taxpayers much more than the $200,000-$250,000 that’s been floated around.
For her part, Stone says state code is on her side. All she wants, if she has to move, is to get financial assistance from Norfolk to do that. In the meantime Stone’s loyal customers plan on attending every city council meeting in protest of the decision.