|Binghamton, New York|
Location: Binghamton, New York, USA
Opened/Closed: 1970s, 1980s
This is an excerpt from a 2007 article by Bonnie Morris called " Burnout Revisited: Women's Cultural Spaces."
During the latter part of that era [i.e. the 1970s, 1980s] I belonged to a private lesbian club called Herizon in Binghamton, New York, a community with a large lesbian population and a stellar Ph.D. program in women’s history at the state university, where I was completing my doctorate. The lively mix of academic and bar-dyke ambiance in Herizon’s membership kept us unusually self-aware that what we were doing was important in the historical moment; there were endless discussions about who we were and how to do outreach, with carefully scheduled Board meetings and elections (required in part to keep renewing our license as a private establishment permitted to exclude men). Herizon’s dues-paying membership included, at one point, over 300 women from a radius of 200 miles; we had a rock band, a theatre company, a restaurant, a campout, an annual New Year’s cabaret, and a radical Passover seder that drew dozens of non-Jewish participants—but the everyday tasks of bartending, repair, newsletter preparation, and planning key events fell to a small number of regular volunteers. Not surprisingly, burnout resulted.
Keeping Herizon open as “our” place where a member could drop in spontaneously to find warm sisterhood and cold beer meant a great deal to everyone. Yet by the late 1980’s, rounding up sufficient volunteers to staff the space five nights out of seven became an unrealistic goal. On some cold winter nights, only one woman might show up. We were committing the same few volunteers to hours of overtime when fewer and fewer patrons were making appearances aside from big events or scheduled weekend concerts by visiting artists. So, we devoted one of our big Annual Meetings to discussing this problem.
At that meeting—which I tape recorded for posterity—the members broke into small working groups to brainstorm possible solutions. We were painfully aware of homophobia in our community, and adamant that Herizon should remain a welcome refuge for women just coming out who needed a place to talk. But clearly it was no longer feasible to stay open Wednesday through Sunday nights. In a town snowed under much of the year, heating costs alone for a Wednesday night with no customers were prohibitive. In our small groups, most long-time members admitted that as they had gradually paired off, settled down, bought homes, adopted kids, and/or elected to get sober, they simply weren’t going out as often as they had in their early twenties, nor were they spending as many dollars at the bar. Since New York had finally raised the drinking age to 21, we had also been forced to close membership to the majority of lesbian college students who would have loved to join Herizon; occasionally we held special alcohol-free event nights with the bar closed and covered. These same lifestyle changes that reduced the money spent on alcohol—Herizon’s primary cash flow intake—were the ones that had led our members to new obligations and interests instead of volunteering at the club as workers. Nothing in our bylaws required members to donate their labor.
Yet when all these facts were on the table, some women remained insistent that Herizon should be open five nights a week—though they themselves admitted they neither came by on weeknights nor were interested in working any night at all. They simply expected that women’s cultural space would continue to be available to them as consumers, without their taking a role in it as producers.