Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Longtime gay bar to shut down

Competition, eviction, debt prompt move

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Time has run out for Gio's.

The one-time popular downtown GLBT nightclub is closing its doors Saturday, the victim of changing tastes and downtown development.

"Everything came together at once," said Shae Kusyk, a member of the board of the group, the Oscar Wilde Memorial Society Inc., which owns the club.

Kusyk said the club had been struggling financially, but the final stroke was a 90-day eviction notice from the landlord, telling them to close by March 1.

In a prepared statement released late Saturday night, the club attributed its closing to "the prevalence of social networking, a more open and accepting society and a significant loss of patronage to competing interests."

Barry Karlenzig, treasurer of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Society, said the club had an outstanding debt of $45,000, a figure greatly reduced following several successful fundraising events during the past year.

There are three gay bars in Winnipeg, all located close to each other in the downtown: Gio's, Club 200 and Fame -- the most recent, which opened in December 2010.

Gio's appealed to an older crowd and was losing money and younger customers to Fame and to the downtown's straight clubs.

Gio's had been at the Smith Street location for 10 years and had been losing its appeal, he said.

"It's lived its life, like any other bar," Karlenzig said. "You don't normally have a bar for 10 years in one location because it becomes stale."

Karlenzig said the club scene has changed for the GLBT community. There's less need of such a club as a gathering and meeting place, he said, adding it's more typical for people to meet online and then get together socially for coffee. "Ten years ago you couldn't go to a straight bar with your partner without the fear of being hurt or beat up," Karlenzig said. "Now, Winnipeg is one of the most socially acceptable (cities). We're matching with Toronto, Vancouver, which is great."

Karlenzig said history shows it's tough for the community to support three gay bars.

"When a new gay bar opens, then one will close within three years," Karlenzig said, adding that scenario repeated itself when Fame opened.

Kusyk said the club board was looking for a new location when the landlord, Lount Corp., informed them the lease would not be renewed. Kusyk said the club board hopes it can find a new location and Gio's can reopen.

Some of the club's furnishings will be sold to help pay off debt, Kusyk said, and the rest will be placed in storage in hopes the club will reopen.

Karlenzig said the plan for the new Gio's would be to cater to the 25-to-45 crowd, who are looking for a place to eat, socialize and dance.

The club board, Karlenzig said, is looking for a smaller venue, 2,500-3,200 square feet, in three locations: downtown, Osborne Village and the Exchange District.


Building to be torn down, condos on tap

More residential units are coming to the downtown core.

The building that houses Gio's, the GLBT nightclub, will be demolished and replaced with either condominiums or rental apartments.

Club owners said the building landlord, Lount Corp., told them the 60-year-old building will be demolished and replaced with condominiums or apartments.

Lount Corp. spokesman Ben Lount initially denied the building is to be demolished, but later in an email to the Free Press said the company "was forced to consider alternatives for," the building.

Lount said there is no timetable for the demolition but Gio's said it will happen in March, leading to speculation construction could begin this spring or summer.

The building that houses Gio's has become run down and no longer complies with the City of Winnipeg building code, Barry Karlenzig, treasurer of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Society Inc., said.

Karlenzig said he understands it makes little sense to spend money to renovate the 5,000-square-foot building, adding there is a strong demand for more residential units downtown.

The building at 155 Smith St. has been the home to two bars, a car-rental office, an auto shop and five different restaurants.

"This building doesn't owe anything to anybody," Karlenzig said.

"The building needs too much (renovations and repairs) to pass code."


-- Santin

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2013 A3

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