Business Briefs: Guerneville properties refreshed ahead of summer season
by Matthew S. Bajko
Several gay-owned properties in the California resort town of Guerneville have been refreshed ahead of the summer season, which officially kicks off later this month during the Memorial Day weekend.
The result is visitors will encounter revamped lodging on the banks of the Russian River and several new and updated businesses in the heart of the downtown commercial district.
Nick Moore and Dan Poirier, a gay married couple from San Francisco, earlier this year bought Johnson's Beach , a mainstay riverside resort that includes a lodge, campsite, and public beach, from its longtime owners. The sale price has not been disclosed, though it is reportedly less than the $2.8 million the Harris family, which operated the resort at 16241 First Street for close to 50 years, had initially sought when they put the nearly 11 acre site on the market last year.
Since closing on the property in March, the new owners have been updating the lodging in the main house as well as a number of cabins that can be rented, but otherwise, they plan to make few changes in how the resort operates. Its name will remain as is.
"We want it to be just the same as it was and inclusive of everybody," said Moore, 47, who owns Moore Financial Advice and grew up in the Bay Area.
Moore and Poirier, 46, who met 10 years ago this June at the Castro gay bar now known as QBar, went kayaking at Johnson's during their first trip together to Guerneville several years ago.
"He was trying to impress me with how beautiful California was, and I can't believe we are now owners of the place," said Poirier, who moved to San Francisco from Toronto two years after meeting Moore.
They have no plans to market Johnson's as an exclusively gay resort, and instead, will continue to be welcoming to all visitors. Former owner Clare Harris, 94, and his wife, Carla , have agreed to assist Moore and Poirier during their first summer season.
Johnson's opens Friday, May 15, and will close for the season sometime in October. Its beach, which is free for the public to access, can accommodate upwards of 5,000 people on a busy weekend day.
"We are offering the same type of business that the Harris family has run before," said Poirier, who will be living onsite overseeing the business while Moore will commute back to the city during the week. "We will continue to be a family destination. We want to be inclusive to all of the community, including the gay community."
For more information about the resort, visit http://johnsonsbeach.com/.
Bank building serves as incubator
The long vacant Bank of Guerneville building, a local historic landmark, has been given new life by Bob Pullum , a gay San Francisco resident who has owned a home in the Sonoma County town since 2000. In April 2014 he purchased the Beaux Arts building, built in 1921 and located at 16290 Main Street, for $315,000 from the estate of Audrey R. Rehfeld.
"It was empty for almost 30 years, since the early 1980s," said Pullum, 49, an advertising and marketing professional.
Over the last year he has painstakingly restored the property – as documented on the http://russianriverbankbuilding.tumblr.com/ blog – and invited several businesses and locally-owned eateries to operate out of it. A grand opening event at the newly christened Guerneville Bank Club was held Saturday, May 2.
"It needs to be a space a lot of people can come in and enjoy," said Pullum. "I realized I just didn't want to renovate a space and say here it is for lease. I felt like it would be cool to have multiple businesses in the building."
The 2,100 square foot space is now home to Nimble & Finn's ice cream, retail shop Commerce Fine Goods, and Pullum's Look Up art gallery. The Russian River Historical Society, of which Pullum is a member, also has an exhibit in the building.
There is also Chile Pies Baking Co. , a new offering from Trevor Logan , the gay owner of Chile Pies (Sweet and Savory) on Church Street in San Francisco's Castro district.
"We are really looking forward to the summer up there," said Logan, 46, who opened his third Green Chile Kitchen in Marin in late 2014. "I am moving up there for the summer and will see where I land after that."
He worked with Pullum on the design of the eatery's space in the bank building, which incorporates the former bank teller's area as well as the original vault space.
"With this beautiful remodel Bob is doing, I couldn't say no. It is fantastic; the space is beautiful," said Logan, a frequent Russian River visitor since moving to San Francisco 25 years ago.
The nearby Pat's Restaurant, which opened in 1940 at 16236 Main Street, is set to be remodeled later this year, are possibly in early 2016. David Blomster , a gay Guerneville resident for 13 years who owns the Studio Blomster art gallery, bought the business at the end of 2013.
"I always had my eye on Pat's," said Blomster, who launched the Korean dinner service called Dick Blomster's in the space in December 2012.
The restaurant, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in late April, has seen its ingredients improve and menu updated slightly but otherwise has remained the same since Blomster acquired it.
"I feel a responsibility to preserving part of the town's history there. Generations of people have been coming to Pat's and remember it when they were children," said Blomster, who is eying opening up a new business to cater to the new restaurants and retail offerings in town.
The continuing trend of gay entrepreneurs banking on the desirability of Guerneville as a recreation destination and gateway to Sonoma County's wineries is credited to Crista Luedtke, a lesbian who opened Boon Hotel and Spa seven years ago and soon followed with a similarly named restaurant.
Luedtke, 41, is also a co-owner of Big Bottom Market and last fall opened El Barrio , a tequila mezcal and bourbon bar. She assisted Pullum with revamping the bank building and has been working with Johnson's new owners on remodeling the property's guest rooms.
"The town has just come alive with all the new businesses," said Luedtke. "It's become a much more diverse vacation spot, what I think it was back in its heyday. It is returning to people appreciating all the things it has to offer rather than just a gay party destination."
Blomster, who worked for Luedtke at her Boon eatery and now serves with her on the board of the local chamber of commerce, said Guerneville these days attracts visitors year round, with the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve alone drawing 1 million people.
"Ten years ago there wasn't a reason for them to stop in town. Now we have restaurants, cafes, and retail. The streets are busy all the time," he said.
The Minority Corporate Counsel Association named two gay attorneys to its 2015 Rising Star list, David J. Tsai, a partner at San Francisco-based Perkins Coie LLP, and Stephen Lessard, a senior associate at the New York office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.
Attorneys with a minimum of five years of experience in the legal profession, have shown outstanding legal achievements, and do pro bono or community service work are eligible for the honor. Tsai was credited for his work filing amicus briefs in California's same-sex marriage litigation, while Lessard won praise for playing a key role in Orrick's diversity and inclusion program, as well as leading the firm's LGBT and Veterans affinity groups.
Got a tip on LGBT business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Business leaders and others celebrated the opening of the Guerneville Bank Club with a ribbon cutting ceremony May 2. Photo: Pat Craig