A central TexasLGBTQ+ bar's owner abruptly fired all employees on New Year's Day and shuttered the business, leaving a community devastated and without a safe space for LGBTQ+ people.
Staff and management of the Stonewall Warehouse in San Marcos, a college town between San Antonio and Austin, were told by owner Jamie Frailicks on Sunday that they no longer had a place to work, former manager Lena Jacobs tells The Advocate.
After arriving 30 minutes early to meet the owner without a care in the world, she says the two exchanged initial pleasantries and light-hearted banter before heading upstairs when Frailicks's demeanor changed.
"He told me that this was about to be a hard meeting and that he was shutting the bar down," Jacobs, who had been managing the Stonewall Warehouse for five years, says. "It just blindsided me out of nowhere."
She continues, "I sat there, and he talked to me for ten minutes. He cried and told me how upset he was because, not because of the business but because of me, how much he appreciated me and all this stuff. And again, I just sat there and cried and listened."
Her response to Frailicks was brief, and she excused herself to go outside for fresh air before the staff arrived.
"I said I need to go downstairs and get some air because I knew now that he was about to tell my entire staff this, and I wasn't going to let him blindside them like he just did me," she tells The Advocate through a cracked voice and tears.
Her team gathered at one of their homes to absorb the shock and be together after they were told.
"It was like you go after a funeral, go with your friends, and just sit and talk about all the good times you had and cry," she says.
"That's what we did for hours," Jacobs adds.
Frailicks declined to answer questions on the phone but sent The Advocate a lengthy statement that he hoped "may answer any questions."
He wrote, "After months and months of deliberating and negotiations, I ultimately made a decision that was in the best interest of my family and the future of my career, and that was to sell Stonewall Warehouse. I understood the weight of this decision and the effect that it would have on many people. But after years of trying to improve a failing business, I thought best to take this opportunity and move forward. I am deeply saddened by the results of this decision."
Frailicks continued, "I know what Stonewall meant for the LGBTQ Community in San Marcos, and I have dedicated 8 years of my life to its cause. All I ever wanted was for the Stonewall brand to succeed."
Former bartender Cooper Murphy, 22, disagrees with Frailicks's assertion. He tells The Advocate that aside from owning an LGBTQ+ space, the owner was not supportive of the community.
"Let's just start with the fact that he neglected the upstairs, where Stonewall Warehouse was," Murphy says. "We didn't have functioning heat or air conditioning, but we still always had a crowd."
Frailicks is also the co-owner of a sports bar called Freddy C's, located on the first floor of the building that housed Stonewall Warehouse.
"[Frailicks] said during the meeting that he'd write letters of recommendation or give references, which everybody laughed at and said, 'how are you going to give us a reference when we've never met?" Murphy says.
Frailicks didn't organize a farewell for the bar. He said it was out of concern over the potential for retaliation.
"I would like to explain that in our industry, the dangers of operating with no tomorrow are too great. I have always maintained an atmosphere of professionalism and responsible service of our most valued guests," he wrote. "No one wanted a proper farewell for Stonewall more than myself, but ultimately the dangers and irresponsibility that come with a staff who may have 'nothing to lose' when it comes to running a bar properly would not have been in the best interests of the business, the staff, nor our customers."
"The day you announce better be the day you close," he continued. "This has been my experience, and I understand that many may disagree."
Michael L. Casey, a long-time fixture at Stonewall Warehouse who is a professor at Texas State University, says it's offensive and insulting to him for the owner to assume the worst of his staff.
"I understand that it's [standard operating procedure] in some businesses not go give fair warning in advance of shutting down because of a concern for theft and vandalism, but that shows that he has a fundamental lack of understanding of how the LGBTQ+ community and their spaces work," Casey tells The Advocate. "But for that to be understood, the owner would have had to try to be part of the community he served, which he did not."
Jacobs and Murphy each say that beyond the financial disruption the ten staff members who are now unemployed face, the abrupt closure of Stonewall Warehouse feels like a death has occurred because nobody got closure.
Stonewall Warehouse, like many LGBTQ+ spaces around the country, served as a central meeting place for the local queer community. Jacobs said it was the only LGBTQ+ space between San Antonio and Austin.
"I was very taken aback because it wasn't that he was just shutting Stonewall down," she says. "It was that the night before was our last night, and we were given no warning of [the closing]. I would've done that Saturday night entirely differently if I had known it was our last night to be open. I would've had different entertainers there. People that meant a lot to me. And I know there would've been a lot more people there if they had known it would've been our last night."
Frailicks wrote in his statement that his general manager's loyalty is not in question and that Jacobs was "offered a healthy amount of money to transition into a new opportunity and also my staff was promised 2 weeks pay beyond the closure."
Jacobs says she received $5,000, which she says is less than what she would have expected after five years of dedicated service to the venue's success, but she would be fine.
Jacobs, who is straight, says that Frailicks, who is also straight and married to a woman, was never interested in understanding the LGBTQ+ community.
She says that while she held mpox (formerly known as monkeypox) vaccine clinics at Stonewall Warehouse last year and regularly had HIV and STD testing clinics at the venue, Frailicks was uninvolved.
After the Club Q shooting, Jacobs initiated contact with all staff to check on them and sought out active-shooter training for her crew, Murphy says.
"It wasn't Jaime who checked in on everyone," he adds. "It was Lena."
Stonewall Warehouse, like Club Q, was a central meeting point for members of the LGBTQ+ community to gather and feel safe.
"The portrayal that I left the staff 'high and dry' is just simply not true," Frailicks says in his statement. "While I think [it's] great that so many have stepped up to help out the staff financially through Gofundme, I think it's important that everyone [has] a complete truth and not selective parts that feed the narrative," he wrote toward the conclusion of the statement.
Jacobs started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for her staff members, who she says are all in their 20s and need financial assistance.
"None of that money is going to me," she says. "It's all for the kids, for my staff whom I love. So I want that to be clear."
The GoFundMe page has raised more than $8,000 of the initial $5,000 goal.
Jacobs says that although Frailicks promised to pay all staff two weeks' severance, there was no indication of how he would calculate that amount and whether the payments will ultimately happen.
"He should have given them a check," Jacobs says.