Ontario's only gay bar north of Toronto vows to persevere under COVID
SUDBURY -- It's been a tough go for Evie Brisebois and Tammy Peever, the owners of Zigs Bar whose last day of business before the COVID-19 pandemic was March 14, 2019.
"Emotionally and mentally things have gotten a little better for us because when this first started in March it was pretty sad and pretty depressing," said Brisebois.
"We really didn't know what to expect, what to think and how long this would go on for and what does this mean for us? It was really emotional for us, we didn't really know what to do and how to survive."
Brisebois says although the money problem hasn't changed and there is no capital coming into the bar they're just now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It's difficult for bars like Zigs, dependent on capital to survive.
Gay bars have quickly become a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several similar sites have closed across the United States and in Canada, including Halifax and Fredericton.
"We're feeling optimistic and a little more positive, we've had some customers initiate some fundraising for us and that's helped a little bit," said Brisebois.
"You can only cry so much," laughed Peever.
"We're trying to get creative, we're trying to think if we can't sing and dance and stuff, what else can we do until we can go back to the singing and dancing?"
The business partners says what's helped their spirits is seeing the community and the city of Sudbury rally around the bar in a bid to help where possible.
Pride week is usually a really big week for any establishment like Zig's and the business they would have gotten would have helped pay the bills for several weeks.
Zigs has been a long-time staple in the Sudbury scene for 26 years, 16 of which in its current Elgin Street location.
Brisebois and Peever have owned it for the last 13 years.
"It'd be sad to think this is it," said Peever.
"I come in here sometimes and think this can't be it, you know we've had so many fun times in here, so many stories, it's sad to think we might have to."
"We do feel that responsibility to the gay community," said Brisebois.
"Yes times are changing and things are getting better and people can go to other establishments but not everyone gets that opportunity."
"A lot of these people don't come here just for the social aspect of it, some of these people have been disowned by their families, they're not welcome there, so it's important to us that they have a safe place to go," she added.
They are hoping things will turn around and they'll once again be able to go back to business as usual, but as long as its safe.
They also don't want it rushed or see any of their patrons put in danger.
One of those patrons looking forward to the day that Zigs can reopen is Chelmsford native Jessica Joly.
"It's definitely a bit terrifying because it is a special place for so many people and to not have that and just be rejected or pushed towards these other places where we're not completely included, it definitely is a scary place for this minority," said Joly.
"Social spaces and bars have actually been very important to two spirit, queer and trans communities, for lesbian and gay communities in particular, this is one of the spaces that queer communities started to come together and recognize themselves in the 50s, 60s and 70s," said Jen Johnson, chair of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies department at Laurentian University.
"They used to be these little, out of the way bars and sometimes there was a secret knock where you had to get in, in the last 25 to 30 years, it has become a really popular space for queer and trans communities to gather," Johnson explained.
"Without that space you've really lost something so people are left to try and find one another in other creative ways but that is an extra burden."
While it's still unclear what the future holds for Zigs, owners Brisebois and Peever say they are going to do their best to hang onto the bar.
"It was never a dream of ours to become bar owners, the previous owners were our friends and they wanted to close the bar and we wanted to save the bar so that's exactly what we did, we saved the bar. We didn't do it because we dreamt of this our whole lives, it was never about that for us, we're hoping we can bridge the storm and come out the other side of it," said Brisebois.
"We're hoping we can reopen sooner rather than later but we realistically don't see that happening," she said.
"We want to be safe, we both have people around us that are immune-compromised, we both have aging parents, we want to make sure we take the right precautions when we open again."
"The dance club industry gets a little hot and heavy on the weekends, can we dance with masks on? I dunno, we'll see where this takes us," laughed Brisebois.