Milk Does a Neighborhood Good

With interest in the movie at a fever pitch in the Castro, businesses are taking advantage -- just as the man himself would've wanted.



It's the first weekend of October, and at the Castro Street Fair in San Francisco, Harvey Milk is everywhere: on the fair's official T-shirt and program; on a podium near the intersection of Castro and Market streets, where state assemblyman Mark Leno is plugging the Gus Van Sant film Milk ; and at the famous Castro Theatre. The movie palace is a regular tourist stop, but today the out-of-towners aren't taking pictures of its grandiose baroque facade or neon sign. It's posters for Milk they're photographing. Apparently, Milk, who founded the fair in 1974 as one of his many acts to bolster business in the area, is once again the mayor of Castro Street.

And everyone is trying to capitalize on his resurrection. "GLBT history is an economic engine for the city," says Paul Boneberg, executive director at the local GLBT Historical Society. With the donation of a one-year rent-free lease from Washington Mutual, the nonprofit organization is opening a storefront museum at the gayest intersection in America -- Castro and 18th streets -- dedicated to California's gay and lesbian history. "We have a lot of Milk memorabilia from our archives," Boneberg says, which "will really show the community that Harvey Milk came into and galvanized." After Milk 's world premiere here on October 28 (followed by a City Hall gala), Boneberg and others expect "lines around the block" to get into the film's screenings. They hope that energy and interest spills over to their storefront, laying the foundation perhaps for a permanent gallery space in the future.

Merchants in the Castro are also hoping for a big bump in business from both tourists and locals. A major pop-cultural event like Milk brings in "peripheral business -- people we wouldn't normally expect to come into the store," says Dominic Estrello, a clerk at All American Boy, a casual clothing store for men. A party is planned at Harvey's (known as the Elephant Walk bar in Milk's day and renamed in honor of him in 1996) and there's talk of closing down Castro Street for an open-air celebration after the movie's premiere.

Tags: film