Friday, June 2, 2023

The Mystical, Magical, Triumphant Return of Annette Stone

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 edition of Outlife757 Magazine.

It all started with a series of dreams Annette Stone has had ever since the closure of the Hershee Bar in October 2018.

“When the news came down, I began having these terrifying dreams about losing it, and I could never sleep,” she said. “I was back there with my friends and patrons, we were discussing what was about to happen, and I’d wake up in terror.”

Then one night in October of last year, she had a much more lucid dream that made no sense at the time. 

“I was standing in the front door of the old Horse and Buggy, right across the street from where Hershee used to be, and I had reopened it in that building as a new bar. I was looking around at all the buildings, and they were all renovated and painted these fabulous bright Key West colors.”

She woke up and immediately called her business manager, Brendan Mulligan. “I said, ‘Brendan, find out who owns the Horse and Buggy building, and all the other ones’.”

After some research, he called Annette back with the news that although they were under different names, all were owned by a man named Bob Salisbury. Brendan said he would locate Salisbury’s local attorney, and he did. Annette resolved to call him but then began having doubts that she could make it happen.

“I thought, dear God, will the City let me do this. Will they think it will be some sort of retribution, or will they understand that God drove me to it? Then I thought, you’re not calling anybody because you don’t even have enough money to buy food for your bird!”

But before she could place the call, her business partner and co-founder of the Hershee Bar Billy Tyndall received a direct mail solicitation from a local attorney—yes, the same one representing Bob Salsbury’s interests in Five Points. 

“I had never seen this guy before or heard his name,” she said. “But I took that as a sign from God.”

Determined now to heed what she considers Divine Guidance she contacted him and days later was on the phone with Salisbury. 

Salsbury is a managing member of Legum Group, LLC located in New Jersey, and he and his family have deep roots in Norfolk. His grandparents fled the Nazis and settled in the Berkley section of Norfolk. His parents later to moved to Riverview with Bob and his two siblings and opened a retail establishment in the then-thriving Five Points district.

Bob is an old school progressive who would have been at home (and may have been) in the Love Thy Neighbor Hippy Movement of the 1960s. His mother, an educator, opened a school at Five Points for area Black children during Virginia’s Massive Resistance public school closures of the late Fifties.

So it comes as no surprise that he is an LGBTQ ally. In fact, he sees our community’s presence as key to the endless renaissance possibilities for Five Points.

“Bob was so excited that someone from the local LGBTQ community was interested in the property,” she said. “He also told me that he tried to call me several times over the years.”

Bob said, “As you know, the presence of a thriving LGBT community is an important factor in any city’s success. Now with the cost of housing out of control, it’s cost-prohibitive for many in any under served community to live in downtown or Ghent,” he said. “So, the City needs to realize that in order to move the ball forward, we have to take a look at places like Five Points as livable, affordable centers of population.” 

“It’s a gamble, but I expect that as Five Points becomes viable with Annette’s help, in five, ten years, it will be an attractive area again.”

Since connecting with Annette late last year, he has appointed her CEO of Salisbury-Sewell’s PT Development Partners, LLC, his Five Points property management company. They have begun renovations on two of the buildings owns, and he is bankrolling the project. 

One of those buildings is the former Horse and Buggy building, the pub that Annette saw in her dream–and that may become the new Hershee Bar if all goes according to plan.

The former location of the Horse and Buggy at Five Points may soon become the new home of the Hershee Bar.

It’s just the latest episode to unpack from Annette’s amazing story.

In 2018, the City of Norfolk purchased the property across Sewell’s Point Road, which housed the original Hershee Bar as part of a broader plan by the City to revitalize the Five Points district.  The seller was required to terminate all leases in the 17 parcels purchased in the sale, which included Annette’s.

Founded by Stone and Tyndall in 1983, the Hershee Bar was the oldest lesbian bar in the country. It hosted tens of thousands of women, transgender, and even male patrons over the years. But after 35 years, the bar closed for good on October 31, 2018 and was demolished in April 2019.

The incident caused tension between Norfolk’s gay, lesbian, and transgender population and City leaders due to the seemingly tone-deaf approach to the purchase, and the LGBT community packed City Council meetings for months following the announcement expressing their outrage, concern, and tears.

Queer and international mainstream media picked up the story, and suddenly the City of Norfolk was at the center of a maelstrom of accusations of homophobia hypocrisy, and the larger discussion about the demise of all LGBT bars.

The City further exacerbated matters when they did not offer Stone relocation assistance. In fact, the City has only recently reimbursed Annette for expenses related to improvements at her second Norfolk nightclub, 37th and Zen. 

Site map of Five points showing the locations of the first two properties under renovation

That’s surprising because it’s not as if the City was not aware of her efforts to revitalize Five Points or her business. Stone has always publicly supported a re-imagining of the area, and was a highly active presence in the Five Points Better Block program in 2014. 

Based in Dallas, Better Block was hired to work with the Norfolk residential and business community to give the dilapidated Five Points a much-needed face lift and showcase it’s potential. Annette worked closely with City organizers to provide food and entertainment for the two-day event in November of that year. 

But that’s all past, and now Annette has great plans of her own to achieve what at the City has not. And she has the backing to do it.

Her vision is astounding. “I’m planning on something Bohemian and cool in Five Points,” she said. “I want to open a small bodega with a food wall and healthy choices. We’re in a food desert here, and I want the folks that live around here to able to get an affordable salad.”

Other concepts that have been floated include a pay-per-pour beer pub or cidery, a coffee shop, a farmer’s market, and a LGBT mini-museum showcasing Hampton Roads rich, queer history. 

“I want to promote that area and bring it back to its former luster. I want it to be fantastic again.”

But more than anything, Stone is hoping to bring to life her literal dream of reopening her beloved Hershee Bar in the former Horse and Buggy.

There are many hurdles to jump before she gets there. Renovation is expected to take several more months—maybe longer–and she rightfully has trepidations about how the City will react to the news, given the fiasco of Hershee’s closing three years ago and the resulting bad blood. 

“Right now, I actually cannot look across Sewell’s Point Road at that space,” she said. “It still breaks my heart and makes me angry. But maybe on opening night, I’ll walk across the street and say a prayer.”

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