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12/2/2004

Happytown > Happytown

Gay Days and Disney fall out of love and Kuhn makes it a last call for Scruffy's

 

Gay Days and Disney World have always had a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" relationship, whereby Disney pockets big bucks from the annual red-shirt confab while maintaining plausible deniability to boycott-happy wing nuts who think gays ought to be stoned if caught in public. It's a pretty profitable gig for the Mouse, now that Gay Days has grown from a single-day gathering in 1991 to a weeklong event that draws about 135,000 visitors. Gay Days organizers estimate that they drop some $100 million into local coffers with their annual party.

That's a lot of money. And there are some who think they ought to get something back from Disney in return for the loyalty. "There is a kind of frustration," says one Gay Days insider who asked not to be named. "It's like 'Hey, we made you all this money over the years. How about a little reciprocation? Something you can do to get people to come back.'"

But with Disney's hands-off policy, that's about as likely to happen as a beer bash in Cinderella's Castle, says our source. To put on something special for Gay Days attendees, you'd first have to acknowledge their existence.

And so, realizing that Disney isn't the only game in this town, Gay Days went to Universal to see what they had to offer. The attitude difference between the two companies was night and day, says the source. "Universal said, 'We'd love to have you guys come.' They invited everybody in a couple weeks ago and wanted to make it a day that really works for the group."

Universal spokesman Tom Schroder says planning is still in the early stages – the first meeting happened just before Thanksgiving – but it looks like at least one gay day is going to happen at Universal this year. "We are happy to have them," says Schroder. "We are happy to have any group that wants to spend time in our park."

Maybe it's time for a little Queer Eye for the Rodent Guy.

For friends of ScruffyMurphy's – and you can count Happytown™ among them – this week's news isn't good. We hear that Cameron Kuhn, the mega-developer building a skyscraper at the corner of Orange Avenue and Church Street with lots of help from taxpayers, has his eye on not just one of our favorite watering holes, but the entire west side of Orange Avenue between Jefferson and Washington streets.

So far Kuhn has only submitted a redevelopment plan for the JC Penney building – the three-story, sandy brick edifice on the corner of Orange Avenue and Jefferson Street – and two adjacent parking lots, says downtown development board executive director Frank Billingsley. That plan would call for making the JC Penney building and the immediately adjacent parking lot office space, and the parking lot on the other side of the tracks a residential tower. "That's the only official thing he's brought here," Billingsley says.

But Kuhn's been talking about redoing the entire block too, which would include the former Have a Nice Day Cafe owned by attorney Mark Nejame. (We called Mark Nasrallah, the architect Nejame hired to turn the former bar into a law office, but Nasrallah said he hadn't heard anything in six months.) Neither Nejame nor Kuhn returned our calls.

A newsletter circulated by Eli Tobias, owner of Thee Grotto, a bar housed in the block, stated the building had been sold and the new owner was going to bulldoze it in favor of a more profitable development. But a property records search couldn't confirm the sale.

"I don't think he owns it [yet]," Billingsley says. "But I think Cameron's trying to put together a project for that [block]."

Earlier this month, Kuhn told the Orlando Business Journal his new mega-development "will be twice the size of the Premiere Trade Plaza," his Church Street project – which means it'll be friggin' huge. We're guessing you, the taxpayer, will even get to help him build it.

In the meantime, slip into Scruffy's for one more drink. God knows we will.

When it comes to designer fashion and things that go bling, Columba Bush has proven she's someone to keep your eye on, especially in airport customs searches. (However many years pass, we can never forget the 1999 Parisian smuggling incident.)

Still, there's something to be said for the expensive taste of a Bush woman, who one would think could have just about anything she wanted. And Columba wants the hurricane survivor T-shirts designed by Cathy Veri of Rhinestone Studio Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich. (www.rhinestonestudio.com). Sure, there are plenty of hurricane-inspired T-shirts for sale that were created in-state, but most of them are of the goofy tourist variety, and none of them have rhinestones like the one Veri designed especially for women. Glitter is gold.

In fairness, Veri isn't a carpetbagger from Michigan trying to make some fast dough in Florida. She's a nice Catholic girl whose parents live in Lady Lake, where her family was visiting when Frances came barreling through. Like countless others, Veri was stuck with two kids and no electricity. When she recently launched her design company, it was out of goodwill – and a solid marketing sense – that she came up with her "Hurricane Survivor 2004" T-shirt concept. And $4 from each (prices $16 to $29) does drop into the official Florida Hurricane Relief Fund. Veri says she's sending out so many free shirts to get the word out that she laughs at the prospect of any profit, but knows the notoriety is priceless. So the first one sent to Columba was free, and apparently she's already hooked and ready for more.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is more than just the opening of a retail free-for-all that culminates in Christmas. Known as Black Friday, it's the day when Orlando shoppers coil into a reptilian mass that strikes and strikes again at Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target and all the malls.

At 5:30 a.m., in front of the Wal-Mart in Lake Mary, two police cars and a green and white sheriff's patrol car with a flashing red light and a stuffed Pooh Bear encased in plastic on the hood beckon shoppers to a world of discounts. Customers wander through a maze of aisles, getting caught in blind alleys of Bratz Stylin' Scooters, backing out as Wal-Mart employees advance with wire carts saying, "It's a bad time. Everbody got to do their thing."

Pallets of goods, shrink-wrapped and bearing the legend "Not for sale until 6 a.m." block walkways. There are 27-inch plasma TVs for $147, sewing machines for $74.95, coffee machines for $9. Almost everyone congregates in electronics, where a line began to snake around the aisles for portable DVD players for $99. Shoppers confer among themselves:

"Is it worth it?"

"As long as we get up there and get one."

Cell phones go off like bells as families plan strategies: "OK, just in case, grab a (mumble). I'm on my way to the Pac-Man. When you're finished, get out. Over and out."

Jason, a burly, tattooed Wal-Mart employee, materializes in the electronics department at 5:45 a.m. and barks, "I want two lines. And no pushing, fussing, shoving." There is back talk.

"I could be drinking my coffee, thank you very much," says a grandma with a New York accent. A woman with a pierced nose tattles. "Jason! Everyone behind the lady with the blue headband cut in line!"

At 6 a.m., the line rears back and then begins moving. Some people cut in brazenly, but they are squeezed out by strident shoppers. Soon the aisles are filled with people dragging two shopping carts – one in front and one in back – piled high with TVs, DVD players, scooters, Barbies, vacuum cleaners, etc. They swipe their credit cards clean, display their receipts at the door and are spit into the street where the sun is just coming up.

RECORD STORE JARGON DECODED! "For the completist" = "This sucks"
"The kids are buying it" = "You'll be selling it back in six months"
"It's really out" = "You won't get it, silverback; go to the mall"
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