The Renegade After 25 Years - Gone but not Forgotten
|by Fay Jacobs|
|An Interview with Wayne Hodge
By the time you read this article, or shortly thereafter, the Renegade will be no more. Time marches on, things change, and after a quarter of a century Rehoboth's exuberant dance club, resort, and cabaret will shut its doors on February 15, 2003.
Amid swirling rumors about just how the sale of the property came about and whether the club might rise again someplace else, long-time Renegade manager Wayne Hodge took time to chat with Letters Feature Editor Fay Jacobs and give us the up-to-the-minute scoop.
FJ: Ever since last spring, long before it was announced, there was a rumor in town that the Renegade had been sold. How did it all come down?
Wayne: There have been rumors for the last eight years and none of it was true. Actually, we heard those rumors this summer too, and we had no intention at all of selling the property. The truth is, we were approached by a very energetic real estate agent who asked us if we were interested in buying another property with the money we had made on the sale of the Renegade. When I told her it was just a rumor and we had not been sold, she asked if she could bring us an offer. I threw out a wild figure and she came back two days later with a buyer. At that point it was a business decision.
FJ: Why did the owner agree to sell?
Wayne: Several reasons. First, it was a good deal. But more important, with all the new housing being built around the Renegade it was just a matter of time before we'd be getting complaints. The neighbors would be hearing music until 4 a.m. and wouldn't put up with it. But the business has been changing, too. Years ago, there were only one or two places gay people could go and be comfortable. At one point it was just the Blue Moon and the Renegade. Now, things have changed and people are comfortable in so many more places.
FJ: And that's a good thing!
Wayne: Absolutely. And the Renegade adapted. 10 years ago the people who came to dance were almost all gay. Over the past few years, with the Chris Peterson shows and the dance bar, it's been about 30% straight people. It's been great, but a change.
FJ: With so many other places for gay people to feel comfortable in Rehoboth and at the shore, was it harder for a dance club to make money?
Wayne: Yes. We still had the crowds, but our expenses had gone way up for things like insurance, and other expenses. Everywhere, not just here, dance clubs fill up on weekends, but not during the week. People's priorities have been changing, with less partying and drinking. Also, the 20 year olds don't have the money to come and stay at the beach like they used to. And of course, there's the smoking ban. People's priorities are changing. Of course, right now the economy is a problem too.
FJ: So you don't see this as just one business shutting its doors, it's more like the end of an era?
Wayne: Maybe. We've been here so long. Many of the new rules and regulations about clubs and cabarets we didn't have to meet, because the business was grandfathered. And frankly, it's very expensive to run a club like this.
FJ: So are you saying that the Renegade as we know it will not be relocating in the area?
Wayne: Not as a dance club, no. We have some ideas, but it would be very, very different. Personally, I've really enjoyed hosting Chris Peterson and other cabaret acts. I've been here 14 years, and I loved the dance club when I was 30. I was in my element and I was getting paid to be there! But now I'm looking forward to different things, too. We're working on some ideas but we have no definite plans yet.
FJ: How do you feel personally about the closing?
Wayne: It was a great ride. The Renegade offered this community a lot in the past 25 years and the community has given a lot to us too. We appreciate the 25 years of loyalty from the community.
FJ: What are your favorite memories?
Wayne: I guess the Pride events, Chris Peterson's shows, and some of our big theme parties. It's been a lot of fun.
FJ: What are you hearing from your regular customers?
Wayne: Everything. We hear people saying "thanks, it was a great time, but things change," and others saying, "How could you do this and betray us!" and everything in between. Lots of people have come by, talking about the good times they've had here. Many couples who met here are still together. Two guys came back and took a photo by the front door because that's where they met 11 years ago. They asked if they could have the door when the building comes down. Our New Year's Eve party was really our farewell party.
FJ: Despite the fact that it made business sense to sell the property, I think there is going to be an awfully big void in the community without the Renegade. Do you agree?
Wayne: I do. Even though we weren't the only place people could go to feel comfortable anymore, we did have a thousand people on the dance floor lots of nights, and 700 women at tea dance on Memorial Day. I don't know where they will go instead.
FJ: Well, I bet you'll have lots of folks coming by on February 15, for that proverbial "Last Dance," as Donna Summer would say. Or, we might be coming by after that to watch the bulldozers.
Wayne: Oh yes. All the drag queens are waiting to have their pictures taken on top of the bulldozers.
FJ: That's a fitting image to end the interview.
Wayne: Right.Thanks to the Renegade for all the brash, flamboyant, smoke-filled, ear-splitting good times, where it was raining men, and not a few women, and where we "loved the nightlife," and "loved to boogie." We will survive, but we're not happy about it.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 13, No. 1, February 7, 2003