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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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Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay New Jersey

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

Why are so many people moving to Florida, Texas, and Nevada?

Affordability, low taxes motivating many to relocate

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Without a doubt, 2020 and 2021 have been very different, life-changing years for many of us. The pandemic changed life in many ways, for many people in both personal and professional respects. From a business perspective, for many, COVID-19 meant a transition from being required to go into an office every day to primarily working remotely from home.

As working remotely increasingly becomes the new normal for many, the question began to arise, “If I can work anywhere, do I want to stay here?” After all, until now, most people lived near their workplaces because they were required to be physically present in those workplaces for the majority of the time. Now, if work is remote, home could, in theory, be anywhere. People are thinking less about where they have to live, and more about where they want to live.

Of course, that means different things to different people, and many factors can make a particular place appealing — or not so appealing. For some, it’s being closer to family and friends. For others, it’s a certain kind of weather or scenery — maybe being close to the beach or the mountains. And for still others, economic considerations play an important role.

After all, if you can live anywhere, living in a place where you can keep more money in your pocket is appealing. As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately accelerated the migration of businesses, families, and individuals from states that are more expensive to others that are less so.

Three particularly popular destinations are Florida, Texas, and Nevada. Here are a few reasons why:

More Tax-Friendly: One huge advantage of each of these states is that they have no state income tax. While there are still other taxes like sales, and property tax, not paying income tax can ultimately result in significant savings, particularly in comparison with some states that have very high income tax rates in addition to being more expensive generally.

Affordable Housing and Rental Opportunities: Many of the cities in these states offer more house for the money than what can be found in other locations. For many, location is everything – but for an equal number, location plus affordability is appealing. Many people like the idea of being able to afford a larger home or more land for a lower price. This is not to mention that from a business perspective, these states tend to offer more affordable rental prices for office space than some other states and cities do.

Mild Climate: Although weather often isn’t the only determinative factor in a move, it can definitely be a bonus. In addition to offering significant economic advantages, all three of these states offer plenty of sunshine, mild or warm temperatures throughout much of the year, and plenty of beautiful scenery for residents to enjoy.

Each family, each person, each business is different, but for many, these are some of the primary advantages of making a move to these three states. Regardless of your reason though, when making a move, one thing you’ll always need to make that move successful is a talented Realtor.

Maybe you’ve decided that the time is right for you to make a move to one of these more tax-friendly states – or maybe you’ve decided to make a move elsewhere, for different reasons. Regardless of where you decide to go, or why you decide to go, at GayRealEstate.com, we’ll meet you there. We are proud of our hard-earned reputation for pairing LGBTQ buyers and sellers across the country with talented, experienced LGBTQ-friendly realtors who know and love their communities, and who can help you achieve your real estate dreams. If you’re ready to make a move, there’s no time like today to take the first step. Get in touch with us at any time. We look forward to helping you soon.

 

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

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Real Estate

Real estate’s occupational hazards

From being locked out to walking in on naked sellers

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Accessing locked homes for sale presents all sorts of potential problems when showing homes.

“You should write a book.”

I hear that a lot from clients and friends when I tell a real estate story that most people wouldn’t believe unless they had experienced something similar. My colleagues understand.

Most of us have stories about Cujo-like pets, lost keys and stubborn lockboxes and unusual things we have experienced in the industry. And lest we forget, what would any Great American Novel be without sex?

Showing instructions will often say, “Don’t let the cat out.” You will gingerly open the front door hoping the cat is not on alert waiting to escape as you go in the house. If the cat happens to get out despite your best efforts, the natural inclination is to get the cat and put it back in the house. If you are successful, one of two things will happen: first, you will have to stop at the drug store to purchase some Neosporin to dress your wounds or second, you may get a call from the seller’s agent asking why there is an extra cat in the house.

Playing “find the lockbox” is a rewarding game we play, but like a mouse looking for the cheese, there can be dead ends and pitfalls. On one excursion, the box was yet to be found when my client and I spotted a gate to a rear door. We walked over, I pressed the gate latch, and we were in. Unfortunately, the lockbox wasn’t to be found.

So, what do you do? You go back to the gate and press the latch to get out, right? Except some DIY-er has installed a one-way latch. Your client tries to call her mother, who is down the street in the car with the air conditioning on, listening to a Barry Manilow CD. Oops! Her phone is back in the car with Mom. You call the listing agent and get voicemail. You sit down on the concrete bench to think.

Concrete bench, you say? Yes, a 450-pound concrete bench, which we push over next to the gate. My client, who is taller than I, stands on it and I boost her over the top of the gate. Finally, we have completed our exit strategy! We never did get into the house.

You never know who you might find in a house either, especially since COVID-19 restricted the number of people who could be there during a showing to three. I’m sure that didn’t count the vagrant who ran out the back door and left the gas burners he had been using for heat on or the construction workers who left their burger wrappings and half consumed shakes in the bedroom.

Agents can get pretty touchy when you lock them out during your 15-minute showing appointment (yes, that’s a thing now). It gets worse when they find you on your knees with your butt in the air, using a wire hangar (sorry, Mommie Dearest) to try to pull a key up through a 1/8th inch space between deck boards on the front porch where you dropped it. (The owner ultimately came over with another key.)

Sometimes, you have to put your Sherlock Holmes cap on and search for a special feature that is listed on the fact sheet. “Storage near the front door” could actually be an elevator shaft that was never completed. And sometimes, you open a door to an eave in the attic and find your client’s 9-year-old wide-eyed looking in and saying, “This must be where they play Dungeons and Dragons” as her mother drags her out of the room.

Many of us have run across the startled tenant or homeowner who doesn’t get the notification about an appointment. We find them sleeping naked or simply hiding under the covers, flushing the toilet, taking a shower, or in the throes of passion. Despite my habit of calling out, “Real Estate” when opening a front door, sometimes they just can’t hear me.

Years ago, I had a listing appointment with a man who, after keeping me waiting on the porch for 20 minutes, opened the door wearing nothing but a shower wrap and a soap-on-a-rope. I didn’t bother to reschedule.

Then there was the geriatric nymphomaniac who proceeded to snort lines of cocaine from atop the marble countertop in the kitchen as we discussed selling her house while the pool boy hung out in the nearby cabana.

By the way, has anyone heard from him? I’ll go check.

 

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. 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

Renovations in the time of COVID

Clean and de-clutter your home before listing

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cleaning house, gay news, Washington Blade

What do I need to do to make my house pretty and ready to sell in the time of COVID?  Some people are telling me that I don’t have to do anything, that it is a sellers’ market. Well, maybe. Do you know your market? Do you know the idiosyncrasies of your market? In many places, homes are flying off the market “as-is.” But in many places a much more nuanced home is getting the attention.

I am seeing more movement in the single-family home market. So, a seller might get by with doing basic repairs and some sprucing up/de-cluttering to get their house ready for the market. Then again, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so when in doubt, clean it out. (Paint it out, stage it out, etc.)

If you want to do renovations, you might want to get estimates from multiple sources, and see who gets you the best deal. I am hearing some stories that there is a backlog in the supply chain for hardwood and some other materials. Also, many contractors are booked up right now, or have been scheduled to get work done for months now. If timing is going to be an important part of the puzzle, you might want to double check that the work can get done when you need it to be done, especially if you live in a building where you have to get permission to use elevators, do work between certain hours of the day, etc.

At the very least, find a good house cleaner to get in and do a good job on the type of cleaning that is not done on a normal basis. For many reasons. In the time of a pandemic, cleanliness is almost the number one thing people are looking at. Also, we all know that the carpets get vacuumed, the windows get cleaned, and the shelves get dusted. But what about deep in the corners and under the counters and in the air vents and filters?

That being said, there seems to be a shortage of homes on the market right now for the amount of buyers that are looking. A lucky seller right now might not have to do a total renovation and might want to leave some decisions to the next buyer, but I would still advise that they err on the side of cleaning, de-cluttering, and getting it photo ready to maximize their return on their investment.

 

Joseph Hudson is a Realtor with The Rutstein Group at Compass. Reach him at 703-587-0597 or [email protected].

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