Where Goes West Hollywood’s Gayborhood?

gayest store on earth, the block party, larry block
The Block Party, 8853 Santa Monica Blvd., during LA Pride

Where goes the gayborhood?

If you are gay or lesbian or transgendered, odds are you have looked for the “gayborhood” in many cities where you traveled. The gayborhood was the place where people like us found each other and celebrated our LGBT culture. It was a cozy place where we knew we were among our own, a place we could feel truly accepted.

Years ago, while building my company, YMLA, from nothing to something, I traveled across the country in search of the gayborhoods. Up and down the Castro in San Francisco there was one gay-owned boutique after another. West Hollywood was home to International Male, All American Boy, NY Jock, Sporting Club and many more. Then there were famous gay neighborhoods such as Halsted Street in Chicago, Dupont Circle in Washington D.C., Seventh Street in Philadelphia, Cedar Springs in Dallas, Duvall Street in Key West, Lincoln Road in Miami and Piedmont in Atlanta. When my travels took me overseas I was intrigued to find the gayborhoods in Paris and Seoul, in Montreal and Taiwan (where the gayborhood was underground in the basement of an old warehouse). Of course in New York City there was Christopher Street, the most famous gayborhood in the world, and the first authentic gayborhood in America.

Today gay boutiques in those neighborhoods are hard to find. A stroll down New York City’s Christopher Street says it all — the gayborhood has moved. First it moved up to Chelsea, and now it’s in Hell’s Kitchen. It seems like we are always on the run for something affordable. We build communities with a cool gay vibe, and people from all over come to visit us, intrigued by our lifestyle. Eventually, new money pours in, and the gayborhood becomes the “gay-friendly” neighborhood.

The decline of the gayborhood also is happening, in part, because some things have changed for the better. When I grew up it was a far-fetched if not impossible dream that two guys ever would be able to marry. When I hear a friend introduce her girlfriend as her wife, it still makes me tingle. Now our culture is everywhere, and it’s no longer unusual to meet a pre-school girl with two mommies, or to see two daddies standing tall at their son’s graduation.

I think of all the changes in our own West Hollywood gayborhood. What once was unique about our local gayborhood has changed. It seems New York City has moved in, bringing Gym Bar, Flaming Saddles and Here Lounge. Gone are the Palm and every other business catering to lesbians. New faces and corporations have taken the place of gay-owned and -operated businesses. For example, P.U.M.P. and Flaming Saddles in Boystown are owned and operated by gay-friendly straight women. SBE, whose founder, Sam Nazarian, is straight, has gobbled up The Abbey. Gone are the Scott Forbes’s and Richard Grossi’s. Today the Boystown scene is a TV set with paparazzi swarming our gayborhood every day.

As the owner of the Block Party, “the gayest store on earth” (that sign that we placed up for Pride has tourists stopping to snap photos), I’ve seen the changes first hand. The go go boys have almost disappeared, and we have had to widen the store aisles for strollers. One time this guy from Minnesota came into my store, bought a couple of pairs of shorts and tank tops, and asked the hot girl (a lesbian) at my cash register: “Where is the sports bar?” My very pretty cashier pointed down the block to Gym Bar. Twenty minutes later the guy returned, saying: “that’s a gay bar!” Then he lifted up his bag of clothes and asked, “are these clothes gay too?” I was in the background laughing. “Hey dude,” I said, “go up to Saddle Ranch and have a blast.”

Then there was this group of eight tourists from the Far East who walked in with cameras on a slow Sunday morning asking “Where are the gays?” And their translator said again, “Where are the gays?” I looked up and said, “Look around, We’re everywhere! ” These people were coming to the gayborhood as if it were a zoo, and the gays were the attraction.

In the old days the thought of a wacky, tacky, fun, gay and affordable store in the middle of the gayborhood made sense. But Boystown is slowly changing day by day. There’s a paradigm shift in the demographic. There are as many hot woman as hot guys in the neighborhood during the day.

So it’s time for a change. Our five-year lease at Block Party is up. I’ve loved these years – open seven days a week till 2 a.m. and every single holiday, with the payoff for me being a life at the center of our LGBT community. But it’s increasingly hard to pay the rent (and our new rent is skyrocketing). So the “gayest store on earth” is going to have to re-invent itself to stay alive. Coming soon will be a new idea — a pop-up shop for men and women, straights and gays — a shared economy retail space with vendors as partners

But while the gayborhood has changed, the dream behind it still lives on in West Hollywood. If you have any question as to who we are, or where we live, or where the gayborhood has gone, take a ride down Santa Monica Blvd and glance at our new rainbow flag on top of City Hall. That flag says to all, “You’re welcome here,” to West Hollywood, the biggest gayborhood in the world.

  1. To be honest I’m glad somebody finally said something about this. I’m all about equality but I’ve heard people even say where are the gay people and first of all it does make us sound like animals at the san diego zoo so I do agree with Larry. Lets be honest the West Hollywood area has become more straight at least bisexual. Fact of the matter is I believe west Hollywood is open to all people but we still need to remember the nature of this city which is LGBTA and lately the gayest place in WeHo is Block Party.

  2. I really hope Block Party stays and thrives. It’s the only store on the boulevard that I can afford to shop. When my friends come to town its the first place we go. The staff is always friendly and its the only shop in town that has the same people for years. It’s one of those ‘everybody knows your name kind of places’. There is always something new to look at. SInce Lemon Tree Bungalow closed and Marvins Pharmacy closed its the only place buy a ‘gay greeting card’. The prices are fair. or even great. As far as all those other comments about ‘high-end’ – that’s the problem. West Hollywood is turning into a bunch of uppity snobs. This article brought tears to my eyes. Larry Block you have heart. You have my vote and support because the store reflects you, fair, honest and down to earth.

  3. There IS a market for what Larry sells. Its just that rents are so high that he can’t make it work, right in the heart of West Hollywood. Not every store needs to be a high-end fashion brand (ES, Andrew Christian). I appreciated the variety of clothes that Larry sold there, and I’m sad to see his business go.

  4. Anyone who describes Andrew Christian as “high end” shouldn’t be taken seriously. Selling poorly crafted neon clothes to tacky queens who fall for insipid, obvious, soft core marketing is no mark of progress. That forgettabke tradh like Andrew Christian’s brand has become the face of WeHo is not just a joke, but really sad. This from a town with actual real guys with real talent besides taking duck-face selfies.

    The Gayborhood is changing, yes, but it’s changing into that from which it was supposed to offer an alternative: a monolithic, cutthroat-capitalist, lily white enclave for the wealthy and for tourists. Bars and restaurants that should be full in a walking town are almost always empty. Rents are sky high but housing isn’t improving. City Council does not have the creativity or the guts to compel landlords to update their apartments to justify the price tag. Single young gays can barely afford it, leaving them to cramp into apartments with too many guys. Add to that the unbelievably awful parking situation wherein the relatively poor (who cannot afford garages and driveways) end up being ticketed and feed and towed to death so that City Council can line its pockets and build multi-million dollar parking garages. Free meter parking for residents a la Hermosa Beach? Free parking garage times a la Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. City Council doesn’t have time.

    Creativity (at any age), diversity, and youth are the signs of a vibrant and thriving community–they feed renewal, growth, progress. Creatives and young people are being priced out of WeHo — replace with shallow facades like the newly-bastardized Abbey and Andrew Christian, all slick money and bright lights, no soul, no culture. WeHo will soon be a gay-themed Vegas where those with disposable income can gawk at the gays in their habitat. A well-thought out development plan — and diversity initiative — could have countered this decline. The entire lazy-brained, boring City Council needs to be replaced.

  5. Hey hold your horses Todd Bianco!….what are you saying about Champagne Bakery?! Are they leaving?…..I like that place.

  6. Larry’s idea to reinvent his current space as a “shared economy retail space” is a good one that has been done successfully in other communities. In Palm Springs, Raymond Lawrence is a very gay-friendly space with a dozen or more vendors displaying anything from housewares to clothing to patio furniture to a real estate firm’s display of properties for sale.

    The biggest threat to any neighborhood with some sort of character is escalating commercial rents. Only the largest corporations and most well capitalized small businesses (a rarity) can make it. And as a result, with rents so high, the prices of the goods and services sold have to be equally high. There is no room for a Champagne Bakery or Eat Well diner. The original businesses that made the place attractive to the locals are priced out. Just ask merchants in the fast-gentrifying neighborhoods of Highland Park and Echo Park.

  7. Hmmmm, a lot of negative, critical commentary in many of the posts. Block even says: “In the old days the thought of a wacky, tacky, fun, gay and affordable store in the middle of the gayborhood made sense. So I’m not sure why all of the criticism of his article and his store. Gayborhoods in all major U.S. cities are changing from nearly exclusively gay to mixed and “gay friendly”, so it’s only reasonable to expect businesses to change that cater to a greater customer base. Like West Hollywood, Mid-Town (Piedmont area) in Atlanta has changed a lot since the 1970’s. Now there are gleaming new and super modern high-rise condominium towers (you should see the big rainbow flags draping down the sides of them during Pride) ….. great restaurants, shops, gyms, theaters, hotels and office towers. Gay-boy Mid-Town grew up and Atlanta’s gay men now wear suits, raise families and pretty soon will be getting married, when the Supreme Court finally deals with the bigots in the State of Georgia! I don’t miss the wacky, tacky gayborhoods of the 1970’s and ’80’s. Today I love watching the young gay couples shopping together at Costco and laugh every time I overhear one saying “come here honey and look at this”. Times are changing …..

  8. @Drew is right on! I’ve been to Block Party, I understand that it’s Mr. Block’s business, however it no longer fits in with the changing dynamic of the city.


  10. I submitted the article “where goes the gayborhood?” Drew added the word decline, the editor added the word gone. There no spin.. I’m trying to be upfront and honest because our lease coincides with the election.

  11. Maybe Drew didn’t read the article…he spells it out beautifully..
    But while the gayborhood has changed, the dream behind it still lives on in West Hollywood. If you have any question as to who we are, or where we live, or where the gayborhood has gone, take a ride down Santa Monica Blvd and glance at our new rainbow flag on top of City Hall. That flag says to all, “You’re welcome here,” to West Hollywood, the biggest gayborhood in the world.

  12. Block is right on. This topic and book has been discussed by John Duran at the city council meetings. Perhaps Drew needs to read and listen and not rant when he is not paying the rent.

    THERE GOES THE GAYBORHOOD? is a new book by Amin Ghaziani that explores how and why gay neighborhoods are changing. ABOUT THE BOOK: Gay neighborhoods, like the legendary Castro District in San Francisco and New York’s Greenwich Village, have long provided sexual minorities with safe havens in an often unsafe world.

  13. I think what a lot of people want to know is where has the gay community gone. For more than 20 years the main areas were Weho, Silverlake and Studio City. Now that prices have skyrocketed beyond affordability in all of those areas…it has moved yet again. The equivalent to Weho is now East Hollywood. Silverlake folks has moved eastward to the Highland Park area…and Studio City has spread out to the NoHo, Valley Village, Sherman Oaks areas. Weho will always have a concentration of gay bars and nightlight. But we certainly aren’t living there anymore.

  14. What it comes down to are the greedy oligarchs who own all of West Hollywood and charge insane rents. That’s why no business survives unless it’s based on alcohol or fast food. I’m shocked people still try to come in and do business here. GET THE HINT – you won’t make it. You can thank the same 3 people…

  15. This article breaks my heart. As I am happy for the gay community to finally get some recognition for it’s efforts to be equal. I am sadden that the novelty that we had as a community is slow disappearing. So many good things get ruined by greed and power. A city once use to house run away gays is now sheltering Baby sitters jogging there well off bosses kids. Once this store changes into is reinvented self. All we can do is wait for the end of an Era. Gays your better start finding your next “gayborhood,” before the price of living goes through the roof.

  16. My problem is that this article is about the “decline of the gayborhood” – which is not a thing that is actually happening. There has been a decline in novelty t-shirt shops, or “gay boutiques” as he calls them, and that’s the only cogent argument he makes here. The rest of the gayborhood is doing just fine, thank you very much, with new restaurants and bars popping up nearly every month. Gay life has evolved and become more integrated but WeHo is still very, very gay and thriving. I object to him taking to this platform to denigrate the entire neighborhood as being in decline just because his store isn’t doing well. That’s great that he’s going to change his business model, but he should just do it rather than taking a potshot at the neighborhood first.

  17. Some of the changes in-store not mentioned in the article are: redoing the floors and walls. Adding light boxes to the walls to feature various brands. Dimmer lighting and laser lights to create a nighttime vibe. The pop up shop marketplace concept is a hot trend. It allows small vendors and mom & pops a viable retail option without paying $15,000 a month rent.
    It opens up the opportunities for new brands to ‘incubate’ and test market their products. Remember, this space sat empty for 6 months when Different Light left and we are still here…and innovating

  18. Small shops on the blvd have come and gone for years. I dont think it’s inherent to the gay community. However you are correct wondering where has the gay population gone. At one time it was more centralized in Weho. But we got what we’ve been fighting for. Acceptance, equality and the ability to live outside of the bubble. People have moved on to more affordable areas.

  19. Drew, what’s your problem? I don’t think the tone of this article has anything to do with Block claiming he’s owed business. I think he’s lamenting a lost era and citing the pros and cons. He’s not making a personal attack. Why are you? Remember Don’t Panic? Remember Dorthy’s Surrender? Ever been to Gay Mart on Halstead’s Boystown? Block Party is of an ilk that once flourished because to be gay and proud then meant you had to be unapologetic and unabashed. That’s why there was a gay pride parade to begin with. And the Block Party in Palm Springs is doing JUST fine, in part because that’s where the demographic is. This article is about how West Hollywood has changed. And it has. Take a look around if you don’t see that. American Apperal corp. is on the chopping block. LA Jock sold off half it’s space to a candle store. I’ll give you Andrew Christian, but that is a much bigger entity with a MASSIVE online presence and a huge advertising strategy that uses chiseled strippers. To sell a single product. That’s not what Block a Party is. Stop being so mean. If you don’t like the store, don’t shop there. And as for failing to innovate, did you even read the end of the article? Have you ever heard of Opening Ceremony?

  20. Block Party is a regular stop in a weekly routine of leaving the auto behind in the garage and
    walking to B of A or Pavillions etc. The staff is always welcoming and fun to speak with, and
    always have something new to show. Besides affordable priced clothing, there are always fun “Seasonal” accessories to see and Gay Pride orientated items . (Cant think of another store that continuously wears it’s Gay Pride on it’s sleeve.) While I appreciate having all the other stores on “The Boulevard” in which to shop, I hardly consider excluded as “a modern, cosmopolitan gay male” when I enjoy Block Party ! Comments about Modern and
    Cosmopolitan come across as brainless and compartmentalizing. West Hollywood is for
    all and not limited to this sort of shortsightedness and snobbishness.

  21. I agree with Drew. We need less low end retail stores selling “junk.” Look at the trend that is happening in the area. WeHo is no longer a “ghetto.” Gays aren’t settling for less. As Drew said, “it’s not 1990 any more.”

  22. Finally, I’m not invisible. Somebody recognizes that our city is more then men, gay men and that I will have a place to shop on Santa Monica Blvd too!

  23. @ Drew, you need new glasses. Andrew Christian shuttered 2 stores on Santa Monica Blvd in the past 2 years, and Just One LA closed, became LA Jock closed, and now its an ES owned store. All in the same time period Ive been working at Block Party. I admire my boss’es efforts to innovate, which you seem to miss the whole point and seemingly have an ax to grind. You might also say the same thing about the donut place, bite care, eleven bar, debauchery, umi sushi, asia fusion, and so on. they left, Larry innovates.

  24. So here we have another example of one man taking his personal failure and trying to foist it onto the WeHo community. Sorry, but I am tired of this mentality. Andrew Christian, LASC, American Apparel and LA Jock all seem to do just fine selling high-end apparel in the “gayborhood,” but look at how sleek, well-designed and well-merchandised those stores are compared to Block Party. Maybe modern, cosmopolitan gays didn’t relate to a store that sold cheap t-shirts, cigarettes and poppers (at the front desk, no less.) Your failure to innovate doesn’t mean the gayborhood is going away, it just means it’s not 1990 any more. The community never owed you its business just because you had good intentions.

  25. I used to live on Palm and moved to Hollywood after the murders last year. West Hollywood is not the same anymore. The prices, the people, couldn’t find another place to live that was reasonable.

Comments are closed.