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N.J. gay couple celebrates 51st anniversary

Vince Grimm and Will Kratz met at a downtown Reading, Pa., gay bar

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Vince Grimm and Will Kratz (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

VILLAS, N.J.—Vince Grimm had just left the U.S. Army Security Agency after a two-year deployment in Korea when he returned to the Reading, Pa., gay bar scene in 1961. A 20-year-old farm boy quickly caught his eye at the Big Apple Bar.

“We saw each other on and off at the bar,” said Grimm. “He was cute, blonde and kind of flamboyant — just my type.”

More than five decades later, Will Kratz pointed out with a hearty chuckle during an interview at their home that overlooks Delaware Bay a few miles north of New Jersey’s southernmost point that they consummated their relationship in the back of a 1957 Cadillac. “There was plenty of room,” added Grimm.

Kratz, who joked he was 13 when asked his age (he turns 73 later this year,) noted that Reading crime boss Abe Minker essentially allowed the gay bars to flourish because they provided a steady stream of revenue to what Grimm described as the “most corrupt city on the East Coast.” He said this pre-Stonewall scenario was a far cry from nearby Philadelphia where undercover officers regularly shook down the city’s gay bars.

“That didn’t really happen in Reading because there was income coming in from everywhere,” said Grimm. “There was a price to pay for people that had businesses and everything like that, but he kind of controlled everything. The bars were basically a safe place to go.”

“So were the streets,” added Kratz. “Nothing bad ever happened on the streets.”

The couple, who celebrated their 51st anniversary the day before the Blade interviewed them on Aug. 9, stressed that they never experienced any sort of harassment or discrimination outside of Kratz’s much older brother who never accepted his homosexuality. Their sexual orientation was never a secret to their parents and classmates. “Everybody knew us,” said Grimm, 75. “We were sexually active in school; never had any problems.”

“We had no idea we were setting a precedent”

Kratz began to perform in drag on stage in the backroom of the Zanzibar, another downtown Reading gay bar, in 1959. Grimm quickly noted that Kratz was underage at the time, but management overlooked this fact.

“They didn’t give a shit at the bar, as long as you behaved, as long as you weren’t too small to get over the bar,” added Kratz.

Kratz decided a couple of years later that he wanted to make the shows bigger. He approached the owner of the Big Apple Bar whose relatives owned a picnic grove outside Reading with buildings and a pavilion. They agreed to rent the space to him.

“Then we decided, well we’ve got to have money for these drag shows and where are we going to get it? Well let’s have barbecue chicken parties, so we had three a summer at that location,” said Kratz.

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay New Jersey

Kratz and Grimm also organized drag shows that became increasingly popular among locals (Photo courtesy of Vince Grimm and Will Kratz)

Nearly 300 people paid $5 to attend the first party that took place in 1961, but they quickly grew in popularity. Up to 1,500 revelers who came from as far away as northern New Jersey, Baltimore and even D.C. on themed buses that included those dressed as Vatican officials and the Pope attended the parties. A lesbian once arrived on an elephant with two tigers she borrowed from a local circus.

Grimm noted that they were the Reading Brewery’s largest single customer — the company delivered beer to the parties in tractor trailer trucks. Organizers also hired local firefighters, police officers and justices of the peace to work in the parking lot to thwart underage people who wanted to sneak into the gatherings.

“There was no other place for them to go, so that was like our first line of defense,” said Grimm. “Plus it made us kind of look legitimate.”

They soon, however, began to draw the attention of the Pennsylvania State Police because they created traffic jams on the local roads. Grimm noted that some of the troopers who investigated them were homophobic.

“We had some stand offs when they would come in and just kind of sit there in a car and try to intimate people,” said Grimm, who was the president of the group that organized the party. Kratz was its treasurer. “One time I think I must have stood out — stood there just staring at ‘em for like an hour, not making a move: well, when you’re ready to ask me questions I’ll be happy to answer.”

Grimm recalled one incident in which the state police claimed that underage people had attended the party. Troopers called the state Liquor Control Board that subsequently confiscated the tractor trailer that had delivered beer.

“We got on the phone with the Reading Brewery and said we have a problem,” recalled Grimm. “They said you don’t have any problem. We’re going to be there with another tractor-trailer of beer within the hour. Don’t worry about the Liquor Control Board; we’ll take care of them. Another tractor-trailer full of kegs of beer showed up within the hour.”

The only other incident that the couple said they had was a rumored police raid. The couple sought advice from another local District Justice about what to do if authorities arrested them, but she was initially confused about the entire situation.

“‘Oh my God you’re having these huge parties and all you guys are queer,’” said the judge, according to Grimm. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ She said, ‘Well … the law is the law and I’ll abide by the law. If you’ve not done anything, if everything is in place you don’t have anything to worry about.’”

Grimm then reached out to a Reading lawyer who worked for the American Civil Liberties Union to “cover my bases.” He also didn’t understand the potential problem that the couple faced.

“I tried to explain everything to him and he said the ACLU doesn’t have anything to do with a group like yours,” said Grimm. “They haven’t even gotten involved yet in gay groups. This was something totally new.”

In addition to the three parties they organized each year, Grimm and Kratz also staged drag shows that featured choreographers and up to 10 performers on stage at any given time. Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand proved popular muses, but some participants wrote entire operettas and made their costumes.

“The fire police people and the local JPs kind of found out that we were having these shows and they said, well how come you never ask us to come to these shows. We said you can come,” said Grimm. “They started to come to the Sunday matinees; they would come in suits. Their wives would come in their furs. It was totally unbelievable. This was their theater. We were their theater and they were actually the best audience that we had. We got standing ovations. They would go crazy. They couldn’t wait for us.”

A combination of Philadelphia’s burgeoning drag scene and a lack of interest among younger people prompted the couple to end their parties in 1979.

“It sounds like we were doing great things only in retrospect now because back then, we knew what we were doing, but we had no idea what we were doing,” said Kratz, who designed displays for the Strawbridge and Clothier department store at the time. “We knew our drag. We knew how to sew costume. We had no idea we were setting a precedent, for anybody. We just wanted to provide a safe place for the 1,500 or so people who ended up coming and the 500-600 who came to our shows in four weekends. We had no idea we were pre-anything else like Stonewall. We weren’t out on the streets looking for freedom. We already had it.”

Couple’s activism, generosity expands beyond Pa.

Grimm, a former engineer, joined a Bucks County group that supported people with AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic in the early 1980s that became the template for Pennsylvania’s statewide service organization for those with the virus. He also volunteered for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance and became a board member after he and Kratz retired to Cape May in 1996.

They also joined GABLES Cape May, an LGBT community and support group with more than 200 members from across the county that formed in the mid-1990s in response to homophobic commentaries about the area’s growing gay population that began to appear in the local newspaper. The organization has raised nearly $150,000 for the local Red Cross chapter and other community organizations. Both Grimm and Kratz are also on the Lower Cape May Regional High School’s advisory board.

“We know that the gays that are going to the high school over here are being harassed and are being harassed by their classmates,” said Grimm, who said this bullying does not occur at a nearby technical school where the students are more accepting of their LGBT classmates. “The kids are basically walking around hand-in-hand and nobody cares.”

The group also played a role in efforts to secure passage of both New Jersey’s domestic partnership registry and civil unions law — the couple entered into one two days after the state’s civil unions law took effect in 2007. Grimm, who is also a minister, continues to officiate these ceremonies throughout the Cape May area.

“The biggest reason for us to do it immediately was death things,” said Kratz. “When you die, the tax rate is astronomical. Now that’s going to be somewhat less. Domestic partnership is not marriage, but it’s close. We’ve heard stories and meet people that one lover died and they had to sell the house and the business to pay the tax.”

He added that he does not think that he and Grimm will live to see the day when gays and lesbians can legally tie the knot in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie in February vetoed a same-sex marriage bill, but Kratz stressed he expects gay weddings will eventually happen in the Garden State.

“I thought if marriage passes, am I going to have yet another dress because we had to do two ceremonies,” he joked.

When asked about the most romantic thing the couple had done for each other, Kratz immediately said travel. He and Grimm went to India and Egypt in the 1970s and have traveled around the world twice. They established the Nguyen Zian Quynh-Vince Will Education Foundation to help fatherless Vietnamese children attend school after they visited the Southeast Asian country in 2006 and befriended a guide after whom they named it.

“That’s probably one of the best, rewarding things we do,” said Grimm.

Both men stressed they remain in love with each other after 51 years.

“I’ve never had a day in my life that I wanted to kill him,” said Kratz, although he joked he came close last month after Grimm left his passport in his suitcase when they boarded a cruise ship in Copenhagen. “Never, never have I had a moment where I said I didn’t want to be here.”

Grimm added that Kratz has “backed me all of the way.”

“If I had one wish it would be that everyone could have a supporting partner like he is,” he said.

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Real Estate

What homeowners are grateful for this year

Where you live should be something to appreciate

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Since you’re reading this over Thanksgiving weekend, I wanted to write about gratitude as it pertains to real estate, so I started by Googling “gratitude, house.” 

Unsurprisingly, page after page of results were links to recovery centers and residences.  Sandwiched in between was a now defunct coffeeshop and yoga studio in Bandra, Mumbai. Although I applaud people who are in recovery and I like yoga, none of that hit the target of what I was looking for, so here are some of my thoughts and suggestions.

Can you be grateful for things inside, outside, and around your home? Of course you can! It might not feel as profound as expressing thanks for the people you love, or good health, or your chosen faith, but as a homeowner, you’re making memories and experiencing ups and downs that you’re going to reflect on years down the road.

Think about the purchase of your home and the steps you went through to seal the deal. Did you find it quickly? Did you compete with other buyers and win? Did you pay a fair price? Did you get a great interest rate? Did the loan process and settlement go smoothly? If so, be grateful.

Where you live can also be something to appreciate. Some people want a bustling urban environment with nearby amenities, such as shopping, dining, transportation, or multiple ways to exercise. Others want the quiet and solitude of a cabin in the mountains or on a lake, with acreage, wildlife and beautiful views of all Mother Nature has to offer. Still others want a larger, more reasonably priced home in the suburbs outside the Beltway, where they can hop on a train and get lost in a novel en route to the office. 

So, is your home situated in the neighborhood or environment you wanted? Did the schools, if important to you, meet your expectations? Is it close to (or if you prefer, far from) family members? Is your commute to work or school manageable? If you answered yes to any of these questions, be grateful.

If you work from home, is the space pleasant and the atmosphere conducive to ensuring productivity? Is the color scheme energizing? Peaceful? Would your décor get at least an 8 out of 10 from Room Rater when you have a conference call on Zoom? 

Is your home big enough to expand into as your family grows? Small enough for downsizing? Does the layout still meet your needs or have your needs changed? 

Is what you own your dream house or condo? Could it be? If you need to make some modifications, be thankful for HGTV, the DIY channel, YouTube how-to videos, Thumbtack, and Yelp reviews.

Living through a renovation can bring out the worst in people. Weeks or months of doing dishes in the bathtub or showering at the gym can cause friction in even the most committed relationship. Once your renovation is completed, however, be grateful that your sanity withstood the trauma of living through it. 

Be thankful for the things you don’t notice or think of often. Do you love the way the dining room chandelier casts light on the ceiling at night or how the sun streams in through the skylight in the early morning? 

Perhaps the feature wall you added makes you smile when you come in the front door or a favorite piece of art that reflects your personality catches your eye. Maybe you have pleasant memories of family gatherings in front of the fireplace or choruses of “Score” as you and your friends watch the World Cup on your 65” TV.

If you’re like me, you’re thankful that your boiler made it through last winter, that you didn’t have to patch the roof again this year, or that you found that hole in the fence and repaired it before your dog got out. 

During the year, we can lose sight of the things we are grateful for, so as Elle Woods suggested in “Legally Blonde 2,” I highly recommend keeping a gratitude jar. 

Use it to keep track of what you’re grateful for by writing things down and dropping those notes in the jar. Then, when you have a home anniversary or are stressed out about a renovation, when out-of-town company stays too long or when the kids draw on the walls with a Sharpie, pull out a note from the jar and read it aloud like a mantra. 

Unlike the sisters of Delta Nu, however, you don’t really have to snap your fingers after reading it.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate / @properties. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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Real Estate

Tips for holiday home sales

Buyers at this time of year are more serious

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Tasteful holiday decorations can improve the look of your home if you’re selling at the holidays.

The holiday season is often considered a difficult time to sell a home – but sometimes it’s necessary. For whatever reason, you may need to make a move quickly, and selling during the holiday months from November through January is your best option. If you find yourself in this situation, you should know that selling during the holiday season does have certain advantages. 

Often, more than during any other time of the year, buyers are in the same situation as sellers – they are buying for a reason. It may be a relocation for work, it could be a move to be closer to an older family member, or any number of other reasons that require a move quickly. As a result, holiday buyers are more serious, and make more competitive offers, not to mention the fact that there is often less competition from other sellers because fewer homes are on the market.

If you find yourself needing to sell your home during the holidays, focusing on the advantages can be helpful, along with a few other tips, including:

• Add some holiday cheer to your home: Often, holiday decorations can add an extra spark of seasonal flair and can be quite helpful to sellers – provided that the decorations aren’t overboard. Decorations that are too large or flashy may distract buyers and make your home feel crowded or cluttered. The right decorations, however, can be cheerful and bright and add some holiday spirit to your home that buyers enjoy. 

• Create some curb appeal: The holiday season is a wonderful time to enhance your home’s curb appeal with tasteful lights and other décor. It’s also important if you live in an area where leaves fall from the trees to be certain to rake and maintain your yard and surrounding landscaping. Certainly, if it is icy or snowy, you should shovel your driveway and sidewalks and make sure your home is safe for potential buyers to visit. Additionally, bare trees often draw more attention to the exterior of a home, so ensuring that your paint is touched up, gutters are cleaned, and other exterior features are in good condition is important. 

• Choose the right price point: Regardless of the time of year, pricing your home competitively will help to increase your chances of selling it quickly. Often, homes priced too high will linger on the market. The longer a home stays on the market, the more skittish some buyers become, and the lower the price may eventually have to go to ultimately sell it. Pricing your home competitively from the beginning can be very helpful.

• Remain accessible: The holidays can be a busy time, with many obligations and activities. As a result, it can often be more difficult than usual for real estate agents to arrange and schedule showings. Clearing your schedule as much as possible to accommodate agents and potential buyers can help to ensure that you get as many showings as possible, which will ultimately increase the chances of a quick and successful sale.

• Find the right real estate agent: The importance of this last tip can’t be overstated. Finding an agent who knows and loves the community will help you to market your home effectively, highlight all of its selling points, and connect with the right buyer. At GayRealEstate.com, buyers and sellers across the country are paired up with LGBTQ-friendly agents who can help them achieve their real estate goals, and this can make all the difference between a smooth and successful selling experience, and a stressful one.

While these tips are intended to be helpful, it’s also extremely important to consult with an agent who knows your unique market and can give you tips for your particular home. At GayRealEstate.com, we’d love to connect you with that agent today. Get in touch with us soon – we look forward to helping you reach your real estate goals.

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or [email protected].

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Autos

Holiday gifts for car lovers

Something for everyone, from a Barbie Maserati to Subaru dog sweaters

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Sure, a $100 gift card to use at the gas pump or EV charging station is a nice stocking stuffer this holiday season, but there are plenty of other much more playful gifts for car fans. 

Subaru Blue-Striped Beanie

To help reduce waste and carbon emissions, Subaru offers assorted eco-friendly clothing. This includes a blue-striped beanie ($15), made from 100% recycled acrylic knit and festooned with a sassy pom on top. Subaru Motorsports USA logo is embroidered on the side. 

Barbie Maserati Grecale Trofeo SUV 

For megabucks motorheads, Neiman Marcus offers its annual holiday catalogue —a collection of “fantasy gifts”— with the Barbie Maserati Grecale Trofeo SUV ($330,000). This fab ride—in shocking pink and with yellow accents—can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds. Only one is available, with 10% of the sale donated to the Barbie Dream Gap Project, which helps provide equal opportunities for girls and young women. 

Hyundai Nexo Kiddie Car

Back in the day, there were Hot Wheels, Matchbox Cars and Tonka Toys. Today, there’s the Hyundai Nexo kiddie car ($737), an electric-powered plaything with vegan leather, stitched seating and rear sensors that beep when there’s an obstruction. Parents can control the car via a Bluetooth remote-control system. Charging time: seven hours.

Mercedes Classic 300 SL Desk Clock

Turn back time with the Mercedes classic 300 SL desk clock ($85) made of aluminum and stainless steel, with a wave pattern on the dial similar to the design used on the dashboard of that vintage Benz. 

The Godfather Cadillac Model Car

Like Marlon Brando, here’s an offer you can’t refuse: The Godfather Cadillac ($23), a diecast model of the 1955 Fleetwood in that movie. 

Ferrari Wraparound Sunglasses

Caio bella! Sleek unisex sunglasses ($1,275) from Ferrari feature a futuristic wraparound design with steel frame, titanium nose pads and the automaker’s prancing-horse emblem on each lens. 

Maserati Blue Unisex Socks

What better stocking stuffer than, well, socks. Maserati’s blue unisex socks ($31) are made of a high-quality blend of cotton and technical fabric, with the Maserati trident logo inlaid on the side and sole of each sock. Ideal for outdoor activities or sports.

BMW Scooter

The BMW kid’s scooter ($120) is made of durable plastic and metal, with a height-adjustable steering bar and convenient storage drawer to hold stuff. Available in choice of two snazzy color combinations: white/raspberry or black/orange. 

Ford Bronco Holiday Adult Onesie

Ford is proud of its ugly holiday sweaters, but this year there’s the Bronco holiday adult onesie ($45). Made of 100% polyester polar fleece, this glorified pajama comes with loose-fitting hood, tight-fitting cuffs for your arms and ankles, and a cringe-worthy design in maroon, sage and cream coloring. 

Land Rover Heritage Watch

Inspired by old-school aviator timepieces, the Land Rover Heritage Watch ($282) has a leather strap, rugged stitching and early Land Rover logo on a matte black dial and ion-plated case. Available with a snazzy Land Rover presentation box.

Subaru Dog Sweater

Subaru offers festive gifts for those four-legged members in your family, including a holiday dog sweater ($35) made of jacquard knit. Other Subaru pet-centric presents: collars, leashes, clip-on safety light, travel roll-up mat, toss-n-chew dog toy, fleece plushie full of cat nip, and more. 

Retro Datsun Lunch Box

Gearhead foodies will appreciate the Datsun lunch box ($15), with images of two iconic cars from that retro automaker: the racy 240z roadster on one side and the stylish 510 sedan on the other. 

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