Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Hannah Schwab
After serving Lansing’s lesbian crowd for two years, the Chrome Cat closed its doors on April 31 – for good. Owners Lisa Whitehead and Michelle Taylor shut down after back taxes and high rent made staying open virtually impossible.
“The Chrome Cat was a great, safe place for the lesbian community,” Whitehead said. “When we announced we were closing, people started asking, ‘Where do we go now?’ Closing the Cat definitely left a void.”
Carrie Miller, a regular patron, is sad Whitehead and Taylor chose to close the bar.
“I met my partner there and the memories are priceless,” Miller said. “I am friends with all the staff there, and I know they were hurting. That place was a second home for a lot of us.”
Whitehead and Taylor opened the Chrome Cat in 2009 in Lansing’s Old Town, replacing Club 505, a former lesbian bar that closed a year before they moved in. “Good publicity mixed with a general curiosity from the gay community brought in a lot of clients right off the bat,” Whitehead said.
But with little money for marketing, that clientile waned. Even the restaurant, which was designed to bring in more money, proved to be a waste. Whitehead said maintaining a full menu was extremely costly and they lost money. To cut costs, Whitehead downsized the menu in October and only offered limited food choices and catering.
“It was a good decision and it helped, but wasn’t enough to undo the damage that had already been done to us financially,” Whitehead said. “There wasn’t enough of a turnout in the bar to carry the cost of the restaurant. Running a restaurant is two to three times more expensive than just serving drinks.”
Seasonal turnout in Lansing also hurt the bar. “In the summer, people go out of town and travel,” Whitehead said. “They don’t hit their usual hangouts as much and we saw our numbers drop. Old Town does have festivals and events to bring people in, but it wasn’t enough.”
The Chrome Cat’s finances were tight, and Whitehead found herself having to make some tough decisions. “It came down to either paying rent or paying taxes,” Whitehead said. “The first time, we paid the taxes and got a seven-day notice about the back-owed rent. We decided we couldn’t do that again.
“We held a fundraiser to get caught up, but we couldn’t continue to do that every week. So we fell behind on our taxes.”
Whitehead and Taylor, who owe $29,000 to the state and $15,000 to the IRS, finally made the decision to close the bar. “People think the state shut us down,” she said, “but it was our decision to close.”
Now, Whitehead and Taylor are waiting to hear from the state about the next step in the repayment process. They are also considering selling their equipment and appliances to make up what they owe.
Whitehead hasn’t ruled out reopening the Chrome Cat or trying again with another bar, but she said she would definitely do things differently.
“I would take on a partner and start small,” she said. “We took on too much from the get-go and small businesses don’t have the same deep pockets as chains, so when ideas don’t work, it hurts our numbers.”
Even so, Whitehead still has the desire to help Lansing’s LGBT community – and she hopes other bars feel the same way.
“Hopefully other bars will absorb our lesbian crowd,” she said, “and make them feel welcome until we decide the fate of the Chrome Cat.”