The final days of Gay Chicago | On Media | Chicago Reader

The final days of Gay Chicago 

The beloved bar rag and the end of its 35-year run

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Gernhardt's decision to take Tidwell into the business was the latest in a series of dramatic maneuvers. In April, the 35th anniversary of Gay Chicago's founding, Gernhardt dumped the magazine format, turning the bar rag into a tabloid newspaper that made some effort to do serious reporting. He also filed papers to create a not-for-profit Gay Chicago Foundation to run the paper, lower its tax burden, and simulate a fresh start. With Tidwell, Gernhardt's original idea was that Tidwell would create a snazzy website and split the Internet profits. But once Tidwell got his nose inside the tent he saw bigger problems and bigger opportunities. For half the business, he'd tackle them.

In Tidwell's view, Gay Chicago's new format was half-baked: "It was a bar rag that had just transitioned into a newspaper, and you can't attract high-end advertisers if you have bathhouse ads." Also, "I didn't want to go head-to-head against Windy City Times. I wanted to differentiate it as a weekly newspaper that focused more on features than breaking news."

As for Star Salesman, Tidwell decided he had to go. "He was abusive to other employees and would steal accounts from other sales staff," Tidwell says. "Mr. Gernhardt was well aware of these issues and continued to let him work there because he generated half of the paper's weekly income." Tidwell told Gernhardt he had to fire him.

Tidwell wouldn't name the salesman. But he was easy to identify and track down—and eager to defend himself. "What Dane doesn't want to recognize was that he had no business sense," says Star Salesman (who doesn't think Gernhardt had much either). "Dane wants a sales force that was friendly and all smiles. A friendly sales staff couldn't sell worth a—whatever."

"It's not easy to sell mainstream advertising in a magazine that's got porn reviews and escort ads," Star Salesman continues. "When you're calling on a supermarket or clothing boutique or restaurant and they see editorials that says 'John fucked Bob in the ass,' it's hard to sell ads. Lakeview merchants, they're liberal but not that liberal. You have to be a strong salesperson, and I was."

Tidwell concedes that when they lost their "primary revenue generator" they couldn't replace the business he'd brought in. Revenues plunged. Tempers frayed. Tidwell thought twice about the printing debt.

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