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Queery: Bill Gray

20 questions with the D.C. gay bar mainstay

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Bill Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

Bill Gray (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bill Gray is in a period of transition. He left EFN Lounge/Motley Bar shortly before it closed abruptly last week and is formulating a potential new business plan he calls Grind Espresso Bar. But he wants to find co-partners before proceeding. The 34-year-old Philadelphia native earned a business degree in Pittsburgh but returned to Philly where he opened seven Jazz & Java coffee shops in the region between 1997 and 2005. The chain was eventually sold to Saxbys.

Gray moved to D.C. in the summer of 2005 but then moved to Tuscon, Ariz., for about a year (2006 mostly) before settling in Washington in early 2007, where he became a staple bartender of the local gay scene having mixed drinks at several bars and clubs before taking the reins at EFN Lounge/Motley about 18 months ago. Several of his relocation decisions have been motivated by love, which led him to relocate both to Arizona and D.C. “I think I was raised to be an Italian housewife,” he says. “Just kidding, though that is why I moved to Arizona for my boyfriend at the time who was an engineer. I did what I felt was right for my family at the time.”

He admits to being a hopeless romantic and is in a new relationship now but doesn’t want to talk details. He says hardcore chiseled abs — Gray’s are displayed in all their glory on his Facebook page — are “not that difficult to get; I learned a long time ago that abs are mainly hidden because of diet, not how many crunches I can do. I try to eat a balanced diet and stay away from overeating, but I definitely have a weakness for chocolate and ice cream. I inhale the stuff.”

Gray says being a successful bartender is more about personality, being genuine and making good drinks than being a pretty face. He went through a few bumpy years with his family after coming out but says they came around after a few years of missed holidays. Gray lives in Thomas Circle and loves working out at Vida, spending long hours with his boyfriend watching old movies, window shopping, coffee tasting and going to spots outside the gayborhood. He’s ready to start the next chapter of his professional life and says, “the sky is the limit.”

How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I have been out for 17 years. The hardest person to tell was definitely my mother. I went away to college in ’93 and wrote her a letter apologizing for being gay and I understood if she and Dad didn’t want me around. I had multiple suicide attempts before writing that letter to the point where I had to come out for my sanity. I was rejected at first and welcomed eventually.

Who’s your gay hero?
I have a few gay heroes. Professionally, I admire anybody who steps out in business and makes it; most notably David von Storch of Vida Fitness and Thomas McGuire of WorkSpaces. I also admire everyone who has served in our military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They have more strength and courage than anyone I know.

What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Good question. I am just going to personalize this. I have the best time when I go to event-driven parties. I’ve been a bartender and have worked at most of the nightspots in this city. I loved working at Cobalt when I first arrived in D.C., I loved the family feel of working at Nellie’s, I loved the energy at Town. I loved the sense of accomplishment at EFN/Motley. In my opinion, there is no “best” nightspot. I do enjoy all of the spots but tend to make my choice based on what event is going on, which seems to be the trend in D.C.

Describe your dream gay wedding.
I think what most people don’t know about me is that I am a hopeless romantic. My dream wedding would take place in a locale that is conservative with friends and family. I think I will be the one proposing because I am the type to set up the romantic proposal setting.

What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
The medical reform that our president pushed through Congress.

What historical outcome would you change?
The assassination of JFK.

What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
MTV!

On what do you insist?
Expressing an informed opinion before making assertions.

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“Saying Goodbye for Now …”

If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Gray’s EFN Anatomy”

If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I am very happy with the way God has created me. I would choose God over science in this instance.

What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
My heart/soul/spirit will be all I have for eternity. I have to live everyday with those three things in mind.

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
My advice is simple and seems to work for most: “You attract more flies with honey rather than vinegar.”

What would you walk across hot coals for?
My family.

What gay stereotype annoys you most?
I have embraced all facets of our community. Stereotypes certainly apply to some. I would say the inability to be monogamous.

What’s your favorite gay movie?
I used to volunteer with the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Philly so I have seen a bunch. I would have to say “Touch of Pink” is one of my favorites. I also liked “It’s My Party,” but it makes me cry too much.

What’s the most overrated social custom?
I remember being a child and my mother would scold me if I didn’t remove my hat when I entered a home. I think that is pretty overrated.

What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Two off the top of my head. I was voted Best Bartender in D.C. in 2008 by City Paper. That meant a lot to me as it wasn’t just the gay community. I was recently named the Community Partner of the Year by the Non-Profit Al Sura.

What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That everything I did at that age would impact my future as significantly as it has.

Why Washington?
I moved here for love. I always follow my heart above all else. My next career will hopefully keep me here as I have grown attached to the city.

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Real Estate

Thinking of renting your place short-term in D.C.?

Here are some key factors to consider

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You’ll need a license if renting your place in D.C.

Summer is coming, and in D.C., many homeowners turn their attention to generating revenue from their primary D.C. residence while they are away for the summer. Due to the way some D.C. employers enable staff to work remotely and permit longer vacation schedules in the summer months, many owners can find extra income annually by considering short-term rentals. Here are a few key things you should know before getting started.  

In 2021 the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs announced it was “finally ready to start implementing and enforcing ” a law passed three years earlier for short-term rentals (AirBnB, VRBO, etc.). According to DCist, the agency started accepting license applications for short-term rentals on Jan. 10 last year and started enforcing the law’s provisions in April 2022.

According to Martin Austermuhle’s “D.C. to Start Restricting Airbnb and Other Short-Term Rentals” he wrote for DCist, “The law applies specifically to short-term rentals, those lasting less than 30 days at a time. Under the new law, any D.C. homeowner who wants to rent out a bedroom, basement, or entire home on Airbnb or any other platform has to get a short-term rental license from DCRA. (The two-year license costs $104.50.)”

Charlotte Perry, owner of LUXbnb, a property manager specializing in furnished short-term rentals in D.C. for more than 15 years, is a trusted partner to Columbia Property Management. She shared her expertise and guidance with me on short-term rentals. Her business, LUXbnb, punches above its weight in the D.C. area, bringing owners greater opportunity to realize the gains they hope to make. She brings deep insight into what you can expect if you were to go down this path with your property. 

Companies like hers function like any other property manager might. LUXbnb collects the rents, “hotel” taxes, security deposits, departure cleaning, and any other applicable feeds on behalf of the owner. They manage turnover between guests including cleaning and any needed repairs. And at the end of each month, they release the rental income earned less the management fee and any repair costs or new purchases.

In the District, if the owner resides at the house during the rental, s/he can host short-term renters all year long with no consequence. However, if, like many of Charlotte’s clients, the owner is renting their property while they are gone during the summer or while on assignment for, say, the World Bank, those owners can only do so for a total of 90 days for the entire year. Owners like these will want to consider that under the new law, you cannot rent out your second home as an Airbnb/VRBO short term rental, and so knowing the regulations can save you a lot of headaches.

Registration Requirements  

Did you know all short-term rental hosts in D.C. are required to obtain a Short-term Rental License? 

According to the Office of Short-term Rental Licensing, “In order to operate a short-term or vacation rental in the District, the property must be owned by an individual, and serve as a homeowner’s primary residence – with the owner being eligible to receive the Homestead Tax Deduction. ”

To be eligible for such a license the home must be your primary residence and owner-occupied.  You will need to provide DC’s Office of Short-term Rental Licensing (DLCP) the following:

Specify whether you currently have a Homestead Exemption on the property.

Proof of your liability insurance with a minimum of $250,000 in coverage. (See below for more details).

A Certificate of Clean Hands issued within the last 30 days in the property owners name must be obtained from the Office of Tax and Revenue.

The owner, or “host,” must attest to the habitability of the property.

If the rental is a co-op, condo, or if the property is in a community where there is a homeowners’ association, the owner must attest that the bylaws, house rules, or other governing documents of the homeowner/condo/ cooperative governing board or association allow short-term and/or vacation rentals, do not prohibit owners from operating short-term rentals and/or vacation rentals, or that they have received written permission from the association to operate a short-term and/or vacation rental at the address.

Once you have successfully registered with DLCP, you will be provided with a license. You will then upload this Short-term Rental License number into your property profile in both Airbnb and VRBO. Those sites will then provide bookings for “under-31-nights” on your property.  

By working with an experienced rental property manager specializing in furnished temporary stays, you can ensure that you’re operating your short-term rental legally and safely. Better yet, you can avoid any penalties or fines that could result from non-compliance with District regulations.

Some factors you might want to consider on your journey to short-term rental success:

Cleaning Fee and Preparation Service

Perhaps you’ll want to have a cleaning service at-the-ready in case your renters have a slight disaster while they’re there. Or maybe you’ll want a service to clean prior to arrivals and directly after departures, so you can quickly turnaround the property for further rental. 

Pets

Do you want pets in your home while you’re away? If so, you might want to add in an automatic post-stay pet cleaning fee to cover the expense of hair and other less pleasant odor removal.

Insurance/Accidental Damage

Charlotte’s company takes out a $3,000 accidental damage insurance policy on every stay in lieu of holding a damage deposit. The cost to the guest is $39 per rental. This insurance is a safe-guard for the guest, property owner and her company, of course. This insurance policy “allows for the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another – in this case the insurance company. It is a simple way for all parties involved to mitigate risk, and most importantly, provides peace-of-mind.”

Liability Insurance

As you saw above, the District requires all owners to possess a liability insurance policy with a minimum of $250,000 in coverage to gain a license in the District. A variety of companies can help, according to the Motley Fool’s “The Ascent” newsletter, but some do this faster and better than others. And they even recommend ones that are best for Airbnb and VRBO rental owners. The Ascent’s best homeowners insurance for short-term rentals include the following:

Allstate Insurance: Best for possessing a large network of agents

Proper Insurance: Best for Airbnb and VRBO owners

Nationwide Insurance : Best for bundling policies

Farmers Insurance : Best for vacation rentals

Steadily Insurance: Best for getting coverage quickly

Safely Insurance: Best for fast claims processing

Should you have further questions or seek to explore the option of short or mid-term rentals, do not hesitate to contact Charlotte Perry directly at 202-341-8799 or [email protected]

Scott Bloom is senior property manager and owner of Columbia Property Management. 

For more information and resources, visit ColumbiaPM.com.

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Business

Montgomery County supports LGBTQ businesses amid ‘headwinds’

Economic Development Corporation leader on overcoming barriers to success

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MCEDC President and CEO Bill Tompkins and Facility Logic Founder and President Pat Larrabee.

Growing up Black in the D.C. area, Bill Tompkins learned early to appreciate diversity. In Maryland, as president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, this understanding drives his support for LGBTQ-owned businesses. 

“With the headwinds that the LGBTQ community runs into, we want to make sure we’re giving everyone the right opportunity to do well here,” Tompkins said. 

The corporation, created in 2016 as a public-private economic development organization, helps businesses start, grow and relocate in Montgomery County. They are also tasked with supporting underserved communities.

“MCEDC staff know our capabilities very well and that we’re experts in what we do,” said Pat Larrabee, founder and president of Facility Logix, a firm assisting biotech companies with relocating to specialized facilities. “They’ve been very helpful to us and our clients, and on projects.”

Larrabee, a Vermont native, met her partner during a softball game in Montgomery County. They married and raised three daughters in the county in part because of the “favorable environment.”

In 2020, Montgomery County unanimously passed Maryland’s first LGBTQ Bill of Rights, which included adding gender expression and HIV status to existing anti-discrimination protections. 

“We’re always doing these things because it’s the right thing to do,”  Tompkins explained. 

However, across the country many LGBTQ businesses struggle to survive, citing access to capital as a significant problem. 

Challenges accessing capital 

Nationally, LGBTQ-owned small businesses were more likely to report operational and financial challenges, according to a 2022 report released by the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement and Research and the Movement Advancement, using data from the Federal Reserve Bank’s annual Small Business Credit Survey. 

Inc. Magazine, in partnership with the National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, StartOut and MasterCard, reported 82 percent of LGBTQ business owners said limited access to capital affected their day-to-day operations, and 93 percent stated it limited their ability to grow.   

“Small businesses, particularly those that are LGBTQ+ owned, often face unique challenges and barriers to success,” Larry G. Webb, the district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Washington Metropolitan Area District Office stated in an email to the Blade. 

Webb, who resides with his husband in the region, also stated LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and small business owners have access to all of the programs and services SBA offers, including counseling and training, loans and capital, contracting programs and disaster recovery assistance. 

“By providing support and resources, we can help to level the playing field that gives businesses a better chance at success, and help to strengthen the social bonds that hold our communities together,” he stated. 

Maryland is among 34 states without credit and lending nondiscrimination laws explicitly protecting LGBTQ borrowers, according to the Movement Advancement Project.  

“Obviously, this can create a difficult environment for LGBTQ+ businesses to thrive,” said Terri Hett, Maryland LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce Board President, also citing the current political environment as concerning for some chamber members. “Of course, additional economic support with the state and local governments would be extremely helpful. This could include grants or legislation that continues to support and protect these business owners.”

Tompkins agreed that “credit risk is a big challenge” facing many small business owners, including members of the LGBTQ community. 

But he also pointed to Denizens Brewing Co., co-founded by married partners Emily Bruno and Julie Verratti, as just one example where working together can help overcome those challenges. 

Denizens, like other businesses in the county, received support and resources from the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. 

Last year, the corporation was approved by the state to provide loans through Maryland’s Small, Minority and Women-Owned Business Account. 

The Accelerating Community Excellence (ACE) Loan fund will provide $1.5 million in financial assistance to assist eligible businesses in underserved communities. 

“We’re the only fund agent in Montgomery County to provide loans to underserved communities, to include LGBT-owned businesses,” Tompkins said. “People who apply to us may have been turned down by banks. But we know FICO scores are just a small part of the equation.”

These supports could help many LGBTQ-owned businesses, particularly bars and restaurants, in their struggle to survive. 

Jan Guttman, a MoCo Pride Center board member and parent of a nonbinary trans youth, has been working to create a local LGBTQ chamber of commerce to help local businesses network and share resources. 

“It’s been difficult,” she admitted. “We’ve had businesses coming and going, and one that went under.”

Guttman, a former educator who worked with at-risk youth, said it’s important because these business owners and entrepreneurs serve as vital role models for LGBTQ youth.

“I started trying to gather Montgomery County owned and operated businesses that would want to share my vision of this workspace where the front part would be aimed at LGBTQ adults – to have a space to sit with their laptop – so kids could see them,” Guttman explained. “Because they often don’t see their future selves.”

Her goal is to secure a location and financing for a community co-working space, where LGBTQ professionals can network and, most importantly, where LGBTQ youth can see them and be inspired to succeed. They also serve as safe spaces for LGBTQ youth to work and be themselves. 

Small businesses as community ‘backbone’

Webb also pointed out that local small businesses are the “job creators and economic engine” for the country as a whole. 

“Small business owners not only earn a living for themselves,” he said. “They are the backbone of many communities that help drive our nation’s economic strength. Providing support and resources for small businesses, including those that are LGBTQ+ owned, is essential for their success and for the overall health of the economy.”

Similarly, the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation has supported LGBTQ-owned businesses across a variety of fields in an effort to support local diversity and their economy. 

Tompkins works closely with county government officials to coordinate their economic development priorities and short-term needs with MCEDC’s current business activities. He has a long record in business operations, strategic planning, marketing, and nonprofit management, serving for most of his career as a senior executive in the media and entertainment industries with Fortune 500 companies. He has worked for the Washington Post and served as president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents more than 200 Black-owned-and-operated newspapers across the nation.

“Where there is prejudice, there are barriers,” Tompkins said. “If you’re going to be a part of the DMV, then you should be very embracing of those with backgrounds that are similar to yours and different.”

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Real Estate

Multiple options for buying a beach house meant for rentals

Consider going in with friends, making use of the off season

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Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

As we near the summer season and you hear the beach calling and taste the orange crushes – let’s take a look at a few ways to make those dreams a reality. The real estate market across the U.S. is still very hot due to the lack of inventory and the higher interest rates. However, when looking at an investment property, it’s a little easier to stomach a higher interest rate when it is offset by rental income. Let’s take a look at a few of the options we have for rental styles.

The typical idea of a beach vacation is for a week right? While we wish it were longer (and it can be!) the usual summer beach vacation is a week long. In the Rehoboth and Delaware coast region – most homes rent for a week at a time in the summer season. While the idea here is to make the most you can in summer rentals – you as the owner, of course, can always block off weeks when you want to use the home for your personal use. Talk about the best of both worlds.

Short-term rentals are a great way to make some extra money. If you plan to use your beach house for most of the season but know you have a wedding weekend here and a week long vacation planned in the Bahamas – then put that on a short term rental site for those dates. This way you can make a little extra money. Most of the time, you can make as much or even more than a weekly rental scenario. Short-term rentals are great for the sporadic renter – if you want to use your home most of the time but you want to rent it out every other weekend and during the week all of August – you don’t have the need for the “my family rents this home the same week every week and has done so for three years now…” kind of dedicated renters. It is important to make sure that your community allows for short-term rentals or this option might not be possible for you.

If you know anything about the coastal regions in the Northeast – things in the winter are not like they are in the summer. In my humble opinion – they are better! But I digress. If you are looking at a rental pro-forma and wonder if it makes sense to winterize your beach house or to rent it out, I would say rent it. You can easily rent for long weekends in the “off season” and in most cases you can also rent to one person for the entire off season period as off-season rentals are hard to come by in most markets. In this case, you wouldn’t charge the same premium you do during the summer. 

I have mentioned this ownership option before. If you have a group of friends that love to kiki in Rehoboth then it might just be an option to get four together and buy a house. I would say this option is a risky one and one I would highly encourage you to speak to an attorney about. The idea here is that an arrangement would be formed to outline what party uses the home during which periods of time. Expenses would be split based on share of the home.

Oftentimes people forget that you can often provide your rental home to a charity event for example an item at a silent auction for your children’s school gala. A portion would be tax deductible and as such is a savings for you that year. Of course – speak with a CPA to ensure these items are true and correct for you.

The above options are all great ideas in black and white on paper — but what option will work best for you is based on what you want, where you want to be, and for the last option, how well you trust your friends who you might be interested in doing a group beach house option with. In this case I would highly recommend speaking with an attorney who can walk you through the pros and cons of a group purchase with multiple people on a deed and mortgage. 

Cheers to a happy, healthy, and fun 2023 summer season and hope you can make your beach house dream a reality – I’m here to help.

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s international Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first-time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well-versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243,  [email protected] or BurnsandNoble.com.

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