Pride in LGBTQ Small Businesses!

June 23, 2016 • 7 min read
Ahmad El-Najjar

Ahmad El-Najjar


This year’s Pride Parades are especially significant for the LGBTQ community, including LGBTQ small businesses, given the recent atrocity in Orlando, Florida. The massacre of 49 people is a tragic reminder that some things haven’t changed enough since the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which Pride commemorates.

On June 28th, 1969, the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village was raided. Known as a gay bar and mafia-owned establishment, it had been raided before. Indeed, it had become an almost monthly expectation. But that night, something changed. That night the community said no, not again.

Police pushed inside the bar at 1:20am that night to arrest the 200 patrons. One woman, still unidentified, was being led away when she resisted, stating her cuffs were too tight. An officer beat her over the head with his billy club and heaved her bodily into the waiting van. It was the last straw in a long history of abuse and marginalization, and the beginning of the modern Gay Rights Movement.

Stonewall Inn riots
photo courtesy of Travis Wise

The crowd rioted and police were overwhelmed until they were able to get backup from the NYPD’s Tactical Force and disperse the crowd. It was too late by then and the spark had become a conflagration of anger throughout the Village, where riots would continue for three more days. 

While the Stonewall Inn was mafia operated and the functioning of the bar was illegal, it was a local business to its patrons, and one of the few safe places for the LGBTQ community to congregate. Today, there are countless businesses serving the community, including, of course, many LGBTQ small businesses.

In speaking with a few LGBTQ small businesses and Townsquared members, we found that, while some of their concerns, like the horror of Orlando, seem universal, the range of issues LGBTQ small businesses have on their minds is as diverse as the kinds of businesses they own.

San Francisco

The LGBTQ business community in San Francisco has a higher profile than it used to, even recently. This year was only the second annual Business of Pride issue and accompanying awards from the San Francisco Business Journal.

In-Symmetry Wellness Spa, founded in 1999 by Townsquared member Candace Combs and her brother, David, just won one of those SF Business of Pride awards, ranking 35 out of 50. While the local climate for LGBTQ small businesses has improved since she opened the spa, she would like to see more women- and lesbian-owned businesses. There are some statistics that may discourage female would-be entrepreneurs, like the pay gap—which is slightly worse for self-employed women than it is for wage and salary earners. There are also some barriers: it’s (still) harder for women to get small business loans, Combs notes. Women also tend to own types of businesses, like healthcare or education-related enterprises, that are often less profitable than more typically male-owned businesses. Combs says two women co-owners in San Francisco don’t have the options or resources that two male co-owners have in San Francisco—and other professionals often don’t take women business owners as seriously. “And,” she observes, “people don’t really talk about it.”

The City’s challenging small business climate isn’t helping. Combs doesn’t mince words. “San Francisco hates small business. [They] get cremated,” she says, referring in part to recent paid parental and sick leave mandates, as well as the sky-rocketing rents.

San Francisco 1851 Portsmouth
Portsmouth Square, San Francisco, in 1851, when rent was affordable.

Combs doesn’t have a lot of hope for the future of San Francisco small business. She worries the City will “look like a mall” in ten years’ time. She plans to open more spas in Texas and has already begun coaching women in small business, to help them get loans and become operational, which is “a complete joy.”

The Golden Gate Business Association (GGBA) is co-hosting a Pride “Power Networking” event with National Center for Lesbian Rights (also located in San Francisco). The event honors Helen Russell and Brooke McDonald, co-owners of Marin-based Equator Coffee, on being first LGBT-certified business in history to be named Small Business of the Year by White House. The City expects over 300,000 to attend the Pride festival during its two days.


Back in the city where the Stonewall riots took place, small business owner and Townsquared member Charles Branstool is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his East Village shop Exit 9. This year, he finds himself thinking more about the repercussions of Orlando than about issues as an LGBTQ business owner. “The LGBT community knows how to organize itself very well,” he says, pointing to the AIDS activism of the 80s and the more recent push for marriage equality. He now sees the community turning its considerable energy towards stopping more attacks like the one in Florida.

East Village NYC takomabibelot
East Village, NYC, photo courtesy of takomabibelot

On the business front, Branstool is glad to see New York legislation that would mandate more state contracts go to LGBTQ small businesses, as well as veteran- and minority-owned small businesses, even though such a law wouldn’t affect his business, a gift emporium, directly. The bill, currently in committee, would create an agency that would develop a directory of LGBTQ-, veteran-, and minority-owned businesses that would be promoted to other state agencies.

New York City celebrates Pride all weekend. The 2016 March starts at noon on Sunday, June 26, at 36th Street and Fifth Avenue, wrapping up at Christopher and Greenwich Streets. Officials are expecting a larger-than-normal turnout this year, with attendees looking to honor the Orlando victims.


With festivities spanning from Capitol Hill all the way to Seattle Center, Seattle’s Pride weekend is not only one of the largest annual celebrations the city has to offer, but also one of the most geographically expansive.

The cornerstone of the weekend is Sunday’s Pride Parade. It is the city’s most heavily attended parade, and is expected to draw a crowd of nearly 400,000 spectators as participants march down 4th Avenue from Westlake Park to Denny. 

2016 marks the tenth year since the parade and Pridefest, which attracts over 70,000 attendees, moved downtown from Capitol Hill, historically the city’s LGBT center. As event planner and LGBT business owner Matthew Love, of Love’s Events, points out, “When the move happened, there was a huge outcry, especially from the hospitality industry. People were afraid they’d lose business. But we’d outgrown the hill.” Despite initial resistance, Love believes it’s all worked out for the better. “There’s a community pre-parade the day before, and all of the restaurants and bars pull their chairs way out into the street.…It turned out to be a win, win, win.”

This year, organizers have reached out to small businesses directly, encouraging them to participate in a new Dine with Pride program, in which a select group of LGBTQ-friendly restaurants throughout the city are offering specials and exclusive menus throughout June. Some of these establishments are featured on the parade route map as Brunch with Pride.

brunch with prideEvery small business near a Pride event is likely to feel the impact. Chris Cvetkovich, owner of NUE restaurant on Capitol Hill and Townsquared member, says that last year, “the only effect we saw was positive, in terms of more customers.”

While restaurants and bars are likely to see an increase in customers, however, other small businesses may not. Paullette Gaudet, a Townsquared member and stylist who rents a chair at Raven Salon on Capitol Hill, says the salon sees lower customer volume and in fact closes every year on Pride Sunday. “There is definitely increased foot traffic on Pine Street during Pride Weekend—which is fantastic for getting more eyes on our storefront,” she notes, “but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a busier workday for us.”

Each year during the local Pride celebrations, the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), representing over 1,100 LGBTQ small businesses, and allied-owned businesses, releases the new edition of the GSBA Guide and Directory. The organization says it is the “most widely used and distributed LGBT directory in the country.”

Safety Notes

Along with the foot traffic Pride events bring, also come the challenges associated with large crowds. In the wake of the Orlando tragedy, safety is on the minds of many. Festival goers and business owners alike will do well to keep an extra eye out during the weekend.

LA vigil for Orlando Eric Garcetti
Lady Gaga at a Los Angeles vigil for victims of Orlando. Photo courtesy of LA mayor, Eric Garcetti.

In San Francisco, there will be metal detectors at all festival entry points for the first time and no bags larger than 18 x 18 inches will be permitted.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray indicated via a press release that he has called for increased police presence at all Pride events.

Pride organizers in New York released a statement saying they are working closely with the New York Police Department and their own security team “to adjust our existing security protocols in light of the Orlando attack.”

If you’re attending a Pride event this weekend, be safe, be proud, and support your local LGBTQ small businesses and allied businesses!

celebrate lgbt business
photo courtesy of William Murphy

Amy Johnson and Allison Vrbova also contributed to this post.

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