I am something of a fan of gay-owned businesses. I myself don't have much of the entrepreneurial spirit, but I admire it in others and am delighted when they make a success of it.
As I explained in a recent article, gay businesses not only serve the gay community and their neighborhood, they also help to anchor the community geographically. Their owners tend to recycle their income through the gay community and they bring non-gay patrons and their money into the process. Often too they provide employment for area gays and lesbians.
I should add that a consumer's first concern should be to patronize businesses that provide the best products and services at the best prices. Not attracting patronage is the market's signal to a business to shape up. But other things being equal, without being the least bit anti-heterosexual, I encourage gays to patronize gay-owned businesses when they can and when the businesses offer products and services at least as good as other businesses.
I've done a few pieces on area gay-owned businesses in the past (a bookstore, an art gallelry), so when my editor asked me to write more about gay small businesses, I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about gay businesses: how they started, how they grew, the problems they encounter, etc.
After doing a couple of such pieces (e.g., on a candy-store), it is already clear to me that it is more complicated than I realized. Maybe most people think you decide to open a business, do so, and you're on your way. It's far from being that straightforward. A would-be entrepreneur has to scour the neighborhood to check for other businesses that would draw people to the area, check the density of street traffic that could provide "walk-in" business, look for similar competing stores nearby, check rents to see if they are affordable, and consider if advertising is desirable or necessary and whether local media are affordable.
One business owner told me that he had planned on opening one kind of store, but then saw that a similar store was planning to open up just a few doors away. So he switched to Plan B-a different kind of store. Another gay shop owner was able to find and afford only a second-floor space-a definite disadvantage for any business that hopes for appealing window displays or walk-in traffic.
A high density of similar businesses is not always a disadvantage, however. Bars and nightclubs tend to welcome nearby bars since a larger number of bars draws people to the area and many patrons wander from bar to bar. Probably there is a maximum density of gay bars, but I don't know what that is. Maybe I'll learn.
If gay businesses are selling a product, they have to find out what wholesalers supply the products they want in sufficient quantities, at affordable prices, and in a timely fashion. Unabridged Books, for instance, can replace any books that are selling well and get them within a day or two. The system is called JIT-Just In Time supplying. It means that any store does not have to maintain a huge stock of potentially popular titles. Other businesses may use something similar. I'll find out.
Not every gay-owned business manages to survive. A cheese shop and a gay-owned store selling a variety of coffees opened up in the area. The coffee store closed after barely a year while the cheese shop seems to be doing fine. That is the opposite of what I would have expected. So reading the market and the neighborhood can be more complicated than I realized.
Two gay-owned art galleries opened near each other. One seems to be doing fine. The other moved away, the owner claiming that the area was a poor one for art. To be sure, the kinds of art they were offering differed significantly, and the price range was considerably different, but still ... the differing market responses is an important piece of information.
The quality, knowledgeability, and friendliness of the staff are important variables too. Some gay-owned businesses have staff people who welcome you and ask if they can help you find anything in particular or if you would prefer to just look around. At the other extreme, I visited a gay-owned business (not one of those mentioned here) recently, but during five minutes of my poking around, no one asked me if they could help me find anything. Does the owner know about this? I don't know if I'll go back. Does the owner care about that?
As I pursue this project I'll try to report back to readers what I learn, either explicitly or between the lines. Let me know if there are questions you'd like to see answered.