Struggling Safe Space
Struggling Safe Space
Owners of Wunderbar say the LGBTQ-friendly bar and cafe is a much needed respite for the Syracuse community.
anner Efinger and Nick West had lived in Syracuse for two years when they opened Wunderbar in 2019.
“We knew that we needed a place in Syracuse that could support the LGBTQ Community,” Efinger said. “Also, a place for artists to develop sustainable careers.”
Before Wunderbar, Tanner Efinger started a non-profit theater company called Breadcrumbs Productions that didn’t have a residence and was largely operating from his living room. Efinger is also the co-producer of Syracuse Guerilla Gay Bar. Efinger said pre-pandemic it was a monthly queer networking event that transformed ‘non-queer locations’ throughout Syracuse into a “queer-friendly” space for the night.
“It was an event that spread positivity and visibility for Syracuse’s LGBTQ community,” Efinger said. “The community got stronger, and we were proud of that.”
Efinger said that when he found the location, where Wunderbar currently resides, he knew right away this would be the ideal space for the LGBTQ and theater arts community to flourish.
“A lot of our families aren’t necessarily the most accepting in terms of who you are and having a place like this you’re basically coming home to a family,” said Armando Villa-Ignacio, a regular customer at Wunderbar.
“This is a place where I never have to worry about what I’m wearing, how I talk, who I’m with. and there aren’t many places around, so this place is very important to me,” said Strange David Fuller, a Wunderbar customer.
But amid COVID-19 a lot of things have changed. Wunderbar has closed and reopened several times. They closed March through June, reopened for a week in June then closed down again until August.
Small businesses like Wunderbar are counting on federal loans like the Federal Paycheck Protection Plan to keep their doors open. Wunderbar received roughly $280,000 through the PPP. According to the Small Business Administration, nearly 17,000 businesses and nonprofits in Central New York took out a loan through the PPP.
However, funding hasn’t been equally distributed, said Upstate Minority Economic Alliance director Me’shae Brooks Rowling. The UMEA is an agency for economic development on behalf of professionals of color.
“Access to capital was a challenge that pre-existed even before the pandemic when it comes to minority-owned business enterprises,” Brooks said.
Brooks mentioned that UMEA asked 36 business owners who work with her group if their business had been affected by the pandemic. Eighty-three percent responded “yes.” Four out of 36 responded they had applied for financial assistance.
“It was interesting to note that in the follow-up: did you actually receive the funding, the numbers began to dwindle a bit more,” Brooks said.
Deconstructing the Divide
In October, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the Cluster Action Initiative, a cluster zone strategy he developed to control the spread of coronavirus. By November, Syracuse was elevated to the “orange zone” meaning that restaurants and bars have been unable to allow indoor dining due to restrictions placed on cluster zones.
That changed in January this year; all orange zone restaurants were allowed to reopen under limited indoor dining guidelines. Tables inside can only seat up to four people, restaurants must limit customers to 50% of total capacity, tables have to be placed six feet apart and all staff and customers must wear masks except when they are seated.
At the beginning of this year, Wunderbar earned a grant from the Syracuse Economic Development Corporation to design and renovate their outdoor patio for extra space to receive customers.
“I think we are doing everything we can,” said Wunderbar co-owner Nick West.
“We haven’t thrown the towel just yet. we are not giving up and I don’t want people to think that we are. we are trying as hard as we can,” said Efinger.
He said Wunderbar is focused on “making a comeback” by opening five days a week and hiring part-time bartenders, bartender assistants, servers and kitchen staff.