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Queery: Brandon Clay

20 questions for high-end retailer as Black Friday looms

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Brandon Clay, gay news, Washington Blade
Brandon Clay, gay news, Washington Blade

Brandon Clay (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Brandon Clay is somewhat insulated from the usual Black Friday insanity. As a boutique director for high-end jewelry store David Yurman at Tysons Galleria, he doesn’t have to show up for work at midnight or worry about “door buster” sales.

“We don’t have sales but there’s a lot of increased traffic and it’s very busy all weekend,” the 31-year-old Longview, Texas, native says. “We do about 30 percent of our business for the year between Thanksgiving and Christmas so it’s just so busy and I feel a responsibility to the store to be there all the time.”

And with family still in Texas, the tight schedule makes it impossible to get home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Clay plans a trip in January.

“Every person in retail feels a little ripped off with the holidays,” he says. “But in a way you get used to it at the same time too. You can’t really hold a grudge because it’s what you signed up for. We knew this is a given when we got into it.”

Clay says he didn’t “necessarily” plan a career in retail, having studied film and TV production in college. He spent four years with Louis Vuitton but says his current employer is much more employee friendly. He manages a staff of 10 and moved to the D.C. area in 2010 with the company.

Clay and his boyfriend of four-and-a-half years, John Saldana, live together in Arlington. Clay enjoys running, singing, charity events, movies, hiking and fashion in his free time.

 

How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell? 

I have been out since my sophomore year in college. Of course it was hardest to tell my family because I grew up in the “Bible Belt” of the South and they were/are very religious.

 

Who’s your LGBT hero?

I love Ellen because she’s a proud lesbian but it’s not all about that. Look at her show and her appeal. She’s someone who came out and is embraced by everyone because she’s just an amazing person who also happens to be gay. That’s what I try to emulate.

What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present? 

I have to say I love Cobalt and Nellie’s when I’m feeling festive. I will head to Number 9 if I want to have more of a low-key evening.

 

Describe your dream wedding.

The ocean and a beautiful beach, our best friends and family with a beautiful cabana draped with white fabric and covered with white flowers. At the end of the ceremony, we would release candle-lit lanterns into the sky at sunset.

 

What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

For me, it’s all about health issues. If we don’t have our health, we have nothing. I’m passionate about breast cancer, Leukemia and Lymphoma and HIV-related issues.

 

What historical outcome would you change?

I wouldn’t change a thing because I’m a firm believer in things happening because they were meant to happen. Imagine if JFK or MLK had not been assassinated. Not to make light of those tragedies, but one could argue that their legacies had more impact because of their untimely deaths.

 

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

The election of President Barack Obama. I know it’s been a few years, but I couldn’t believe that we had an African-American First Family.

 

On what do you insist?

I insist on honesty, integrity and a sense of decorum. I like to surround myself with people of good character.

 

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

“Who is seeing Beyoncé for the second time this year soon? This guy!”

 

If your life were a book, what would the title be? 

“Buying Fabulous On Layaway”

 

If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do? 

I wouldn’t do anything except ask where the cure for cancer or HIV was because we have bigger fish to fry. I love whom I love and I’m happy with it.

 

What do you believe in beyond the physical world? 

I definitely believe in a God that loves us all exactly how he created us.

 

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

Keep up the fight because things take time. Don’t push too hard and don’t get discouraged.

 

What would you walk across hot coals for?

The chance to see my deceased grandmother again.

 

What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

That gay guys are always weak and feminine. I can change the oil on my car and rotate my tires, among other things. And I carry jumper cables and a tire iron in my trunk.

 

What’s your favorite LGBT movie?

“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” or “To Wong Foo.” Tough choice!

 

What’s the most overrated social custom?

Saying “Hi how are you?” to someone you don’t know. I think it’s safe to say that you don’t even listen to the response and heaven forbid they actually stopped and told you how they really are. I really am a nice person I swear!

 

What trophy or prize do you most covet? 

The award from my company for the largest event of spring 2012 company wide.

 

What do you wish you’d known at 18?

That I was worth more than I would ever know.

 

Why Washington?

It’s such a fascinating place as well as an international melting pot of individuals. Living and breathing history is all around us. It makes you want to do something — to be something more.

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Autos

 Cool compacts: Ford Maverick Lariat, Subaru Crosstrek Wildernes 

The summer fireworks continue with two bangin’ rides

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Ford Maverick Lariat

While the Fourth of July may be over, other fireworks continue with two bangin’ rides: the Ford Maverick pickup and Subaru Crosstrek SUV. Both are affordable compacts, though neither can be considered barebones and each vehicle offers some fresh surprises. 

FORD MAVERICK LARIAT

$35,000

MPG: 22 city/29 highway

0-to-60 mph: 5.9 seconds

Cargo capacity: 33.3 cu. ft.

PROS: Very low price. Peppy. Lotsa storage.

CONS: Spartan base model. Bumpy ride. Pricey options. 

IN A NUTSHELL: When I wrote a few years ago about the Ford Maverick, which was replacing the long-time Ranger, it was a pleasant surprise to learn this new pickup came standard as a hybrid. Such fuel efficiency—42 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway—is still impressive. But this year Ford switched the Maverick’s powertrain availability, which means the hybrid is now a $1,500 option and the more powerful turbo engine comes standard. That’s a downer for fuel-conscious buyers, but a plus for anyone seeking more oomph under the hood. 

Hybrid or no, the starting price of a base-model Maverick is still low: less than $25,000. This makes it the least expensive compact pickup out there. Available only as a four-door crew cab, there’s plenty of passenger and cargo room.The low-slung truck bed—which can carry cargo up to 1,500 pounds—makes loading and unloading easy. And despite its small size, this tough hauler can tow up to 4,000 pounds. Built on the same platform as two popular Ford SUVs—the Escape and Bronco Sport—the Maverick boasts handling more like a sedate sedan than a stiff truck. Well, at least that’s the case on the freeway. In town, the ride is bumpier than expected over potholes and such. 

Three trim levels available: XL, XLT and high-end Lariat, which is what I test drove for a week. The XL is basic—with 17-inch steel wheels, cloth seats and a six-speaker stereo—while the XLT adds alloy wheels, power-locking tailgate and a rear armrest with cupholders. But the Lariat offers unexpected amenities, such as keyless entry, push-button start, synthetic leather upholstery, power-sliding rear window, heated seats, heated steering wheel, wireless charging pad and eight-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo. 

All Mavericks come with forward collision warning that automatically applies braking when necessary. But the Lariat adds adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and evasive steering that kicks in to help avoid collisions. 

For all you alphas, there’s a Tremor Off-Road package, which adds rough-and-rugged features like elevated ground clearance, advanced four-wheel drive, skid plates, off-road suspension, locking rear differential, all-terrain tires, full-size spare, and more aggressive styling and badging. 

Alas, such options add up and can bump the sticker price close to $45,000.

SUBARU CROSSTREK WILDERNESS

$34,000

MPG: 25 city/29 highway

0-to-60 mph: 8.5 seconds 

Cargo capacity: 20 cu. ft.

PROS: Off-road capability. Roomy. Comfy seats.

CONS: Plasticky interior. Bit noisy cabin. No speed demon.

IN A NUTSHELL: Subaru has its own maverick in the showroom: the tiny-but-mighty Crosstrek. Redesigned for 2024, the Crosstrek retains much of its quirky styling and adept handling. That’s a good thing, considering how hot this SUV has been the past few years.  

There’s also a brand-new trim level: the Wilderness. While I was already a big fan of the Crosstrek, the Wilderness ratchets things up a lot. 

Except for the BRZ sports car, all Subarus come standard with all-wheel drive. Yet the off-road prowess of the Crosstrek Wilderness is enhanced by front skid plate, extra drive modes, a tighter suspension and higher ground clearance (9.3 inches versus 8.6 inches on other Crosstreks). No, this is not a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota Land Cruiser, but the Wilderness is no slouch when tackling rutty roads or sandy terrain. 

As for looks, the rugged styling includes hexagonal fog lights, 17-inch black alloy wheels with thick treads, black front and rear bumpers, and black cladding on the wheel arches to protect against scrapes. Faux copper accents—especially on the roof rack and steering wheel—signal that this is not your average Crosstrek. 

With the back seats down, cargo space in all Crosstreks is 55 cubic feet (an impressive two-and-a-half times the area when the seats are up). As for towing, standard Crosstrek models can haul an impressive 1,500 pounds. But the Wilderness can tow even more—a whopping 3,500 pounds. 

Inside, the high roofline makes the cabin feel surprisingly large. The gauges and displays—functional but not glitzy—are the same across the Crosstrek lineup. Notable options include power moonroof, 10-way power driver’s seat and 10-speaker Harmon Kardon audio. 

The main difference between the Wilderness and other Crosstrek trims are the comfortable, water-resistant seats (made of synthetic leather upholstery) and the rubber floor mats emblazoned with the Wilderness logo. 

All in all, this Crosstrek turned out to be a practical urban ride that also brought out my inner Paul Bunyan on weekends. 

Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness
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Real Estate

Prepare your rental property for the back-to-school market

Strategic pricing is critical to standing out

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The rental market explodes in August and September as schools return to session.

As we approach August and September, the rental market in Washington, D.C. undergoes a significant transformation. The supercharged demand earlier in the year resulting from the influx of families wanting to move in before the new school year and higher ed students returning for their studies starts to wane. For landlords, this period is a crucial time to ensure their properties are appealing and priced competitively. A well-prepared rental property can make all the difference in securing a successful lease. Here are some tips to help you get your property ready for the back-to-school season.

Be Wise, Compromise: Navigating Pricing Strategies

The adage “Be Wise, Compromise” rings especially true as we head into August and September. It’s a period where strategic pricing becomes critical to stand out among a glut of rentals on the market and the tendency to “fire sale.” The rental market demand starts slowing down in August, but it is taking steep hits by September. If your property remains without a lease by the end of August, consider adjusting your rental price to attract tenants.

Lowering your price during August can be a smart move to avoid vacancies, but don’t wait too long. By September, you might face tougher competition as other landlords drop their prices too. Meeting the market demand head-on with a competitive price ensures you don’t miss out on securing a tenant before the academic year begins.

What Renters with School-Age Children Want

Families with school-age children have specific needs and preferences when searching for a rental property. Here are some key features to focus on:

  1. Proximity to Good Schools: If your property is within a highly regarded school district you are ahead of the game. Make sure the rental ad includes correct links and updated public information on school districts but be cautious from sounding like you are searching only for families with small children. That could run afoul of Fair Housing laws.  
  2. Functional Space: Families need ample space. If your rental property offers enough bedrooms, storage areas, and a functional layout that accommodates the needs of a family with children you might seriously consider that market segment as a desirable tenant.
  3. Outdoor Areas: An ample yard or nearby parks and play areas are big selling points. Outdoor spaces provide areas for children to play and families to enjoy.
  4. Community Amenities: Proximity to community centers, libraries, recreational facilities and splash parks can make your rental more attractive to families than others.

Timing is also critical. Families with school-aged children wish to move in before the school year starts, so aim to have your property ready and listed for rent early.  I recommend counting on 6-8 weeks before a move-in date.. This gives you a better chance of finding those tenants who are planning ahead and interested in signing a lease well before the targeted move-in date, settling in before the first school bell rings.

The D.C. Higher Education Hub

In addition to families with young children heading back to school on Aug. 26, the Washington, D.C., metro area boasts a remarkable concentration of higher education programs. According to a recent discussion on The1A.org, this region is home to an inordinately high number of prestigious educational institutions, including my alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, which has consolidated its graduate programs in D.C. into one location at the old Newseum location on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. All higher education institutions residing here bring a reliable and annual stream of new students in need of housing, particularly before the new academic year approaches.

Attracting Student Tenants: Essential Preparations

With a considerable student population in D.C., attracting this demographic requires understanding their unique needs.  Remember to refrain from sounding like you are searching only for students to avoid going against Fair Housing laws.  

  1. Affordability: Students are often budget-conscious. Offering flexible lease terms, such as 9-month leases that align with the academic year, can be very appealing.
  2. Proximity to Campuses: If the rental is located particularly close to a school, highlighting it in a list of what is nearby in the community can help those searching for rental housing off campus.  The convenience of a short commute is an important factor for students.
  3. Amenities and Furnishings: Students appreciate furnished or partially furnished rental homes, high-speed internet, and study-friendly environments. Ensuring your property has these amenities can give you a competitive edge, particularly if your rental is relatively close to a campus geographically.
  4. Roommate-Friendly Layouts: Properties with multiple bedrooms and shared common areas are ideal for student roommates. If the layout supports a co-living arrangement with a one bedroom to one bathroom ratio, all the better!
  5. Public Transportation Access: Easy access to public transportation is crucial for students who may not have their own vehicles. A short commute on public transportation or by using bike-friendly streets is also very desirable. 

Get Ready for Back to School

August is the perfect time to prepare your rental property for the back-to-school season. Here’s a checklist to ensure you’re ready:

  1. Conduct Maintenance Checks: Ensure all appliances, plumbing, and electrical systems are in top condition. Address any repairs or maintenance issues promptly.
  2. Enhance Curb Appeal: First impressions matter. Make sure the exterior of your property is well-maintained, with trimmed lawns, clean walkways, and fresh exterior paint if needed.
  3. Safety Upgrades: Install or upgrade smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and ensure a fire extinguisher is wall-mounted and readily accessible in the kitchen.
  4. Deep Cleaning: A thorough cleaning can make your property shine. Consider hiring professionals to ensure every corner is spotless including windows.
  5. Marketing and Listings: Update your property listings with attractive photos and detailed descriptions. 

The Rental Market Dynamics: August and September

Understanding the rental market dynamics during August and September can help you strategize effectively. August typically sees a slowdown, but September’s drop in demand means if rental properties have not yet closed the deal on a rental agreement, you will need a sense of urgency to price it right to rent.

Lowering your price slightly or with a stair-step approach every few weeks starting at the end of August can help attract those prospective tenants who are still looking and those making last-minute decisions on their housing needs. 

Preparing your rental property for the back-to-school season in Washington, D.C. involves a combination of strategic pricing, understanding tenant needs, and ensuring your property is in top condition. By focusing on strategic pricing you can navigate the market dynamics of August and September successfully. Remember, be wise and compromise where necessary to ensure your property stands out and attracts those tenants who reach the peak of their search in late summer, just in time for the academic year.

(This article was written with some assistance from AI.)

Scott Bloom is owner and Senior Property Manager, Columbia Property Management. For more information and resources, go to ColumbiaPM.com.

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Dining

Union Market’s Last Call Bar a welcoming oasis for all

Mixologist Britt Weaver expresses her pride and identity every day

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Britt Weaver is head mixologist at Last Call Bar.

Amid the development of the fast-growing Union Market district, spanning dozens of eateries (including a duo of Michelin stars), embracing and inclusive spaces are tough to come by. Last Call Bar is one of those — and head mixologist and proud member of the LGBTQ community Britt Weaver is making sure this divey spot stays that way.

While buzzy restaurants take the spotlight, Weaver and Last Call are embracing the different.

“I’ve made it a personal mission to ensure that the bar continues to be a place where everyone feels welcomed and accepted,” she says. “Being behind the bar, I see a lot of people — I try to make sure every guest feels safe, seen, and cared for when they visit.”

Last Call exudes a laid-back spirit, aiming to fill that neighborhood-style gap that might be missing among prix-fixe tasting menus and shiny boutiques. Eccentric décor that includes painted lockers, old posters hung from the ceiling, artfully peeling paint, and arcade games feeds into the homey spirit. Patrons are welcome to bring in stickers and slap them on the bar, adding even more personality to the space.

Launched in 2019 serving sub-$10 drinks and having survived the pandemic, Last Call still maintains an unconventional vibe that extends to the menu. It’s one of the few bars that serves flavor-changing Jello shots, with the option to add nostalgia-inducing pop rocks; as well as an hour-long “teeny tiny ‘tini hour” for those who want a taste but not an entire glassful of liquor. Keeping things cool: koozies are also for sale. The food menu’s grown since opening, with sandwiches in addition to bags of chips and shareable dips.

Last Call welcomed Weaver in 2023. While working as a bartender during grad school, Weaver was drawn to the excitement of the bar scene. After COVID, she says, she leaned into her career in the hospitality industry.

In the freewheeling, demanding bartending industry, Weaver has fought to be seen.

“Previous jobs and ownership teams have urged me to conceal my identity, but that is something I refuse to do. It is so incredibly important for me to be able to express my pride and identity every day,” she says.

Last Call has a pedigree from its ally owner Gina Chersevani, who also runs decade-old Buffalo and Bergen stall inside Union Market and a sister Buffalo and Bergen on Capitol Hill. Chersevani is deeply rooted in the D.C. hospitality industry, which Weaver says has a culture that celebrates creativity and expression.

Chersevani ensures that “I’ve been celebrated and encouraged to express my identity,” says Weaver. “She has given me the freedom to cultivate a space that is welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community while also still remaining true to the Last Call spirit.” This year, during Pride month, Chersevani launched a Pride punch card, in which patrons who visited all of her spots won free drinks.

Weaver further notes that being proud of her identity and committing to it behind the bar and in the fast-paced service industry “opens more space for other LGBTQ+ industry members to feel safe to express their own identities. Visibility is so critical in making safe spaces for the queer community.”

Looking forward, Weaver remains steadfast in her commitment to learning and growing in the space and in D.C. She promises that Last Call Bar has plenty of events and programming, new cocktail menus, and a welcoming community spirit.

To celebrate the summer, Weaver offered a cocktail recipe to have at home with friends: Strawberry Piña Colada.

Ingredients

· 2 ounces silver rum

· 1 ounce strawberry purée

· 1 ounce fresh pineapple juice

· 1 ounce coconut milk

· .5 ounce lime juice

Combine all ingredients, then shake. Serve in a Collins glass, over crushed ice, and

garnish as desired.

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