George and Vern
Have you ever wondered what all the wonderful people you meet here in the Rehoboth area did BEFORE they headed for the beach? Here’s your chance to find out, as we profile folks you may know and give you a glimpse into their lives pre-Rehoboth Beach! We inaugurate this column with a look at George Coscia and Vern Buck
It was back in 1969 and George Coscia was a Mad Man—no, he wasn’t crazy, but he was working in advertising in New York, which made him kin to television’s Mad Men, ad men of the era. Although he may have been slightly mad as well, since he was about to ignore his same-sex attractions and marry a woman.
As luck would have it, a friend talked George into accompanying him to a gay bar, the handsome bartender was Vern Buck, and the rest is history! From that night forward, George snuck back to the bar frequently, got to know Vern, broke off the engagement two months later, and the pair moved in together.
“I was living a charmed life,” says George, “making a huge income at the agency, living in a grand high rise apartment and really experiencing the high life—until I got fired!” The guys changed from extravagant dining out to living on mac ‘n cheese, while Vern went to display school to become a retail designer.
George got back into ad agency work, Vern started his display career at Bamberger’s in New Jersey, and the guys bought a house in a Jersey suburb, living a quiet gay life. “I became part of Vern’s family, an honorary cousin,” says George.
“But nobody mentioned the word gay,” Vern remembers.
In their suburban community, they were invited to all the parties and pretty much stayed under the radar, or at least thought they did. At one party, a neighborhood man asked George, “Do you live anywhere near the homosexuals?”
“Um, very near,” stammered George.
Good fortune shined again through the 70s and early 80s as George worked his way to the top of the agency, with a percentage share of the company, a big paycheck, a Senior VP next to his name and bigger clients—like Lender’s Bagels, Dewar’s Scotch, and the New Jersey Lottery. He was at the top of his game.
Meanwhile, Vern’s mom passed away and left the boys a rental property in Daytona Beach, Florida, where they vacationed and soon built their own home on the water. But the frantic New York ad agency life was taking a toll. George commuted to the city from Jersey by hydrofoil boat, worked long hours, and took his stress home. And it took a toll on his health as well.
“I told George to quit and sell his part of the agency,” said Vern, which he did, and the couple moved to Florida.
“I hated it,” says George, “the bugs and the alligators and it was boring.” So he started attending gay business guild meetings and meeting the business community, and soon, there was a cure for the boredom. In 1993 George and Vern met a guy with a liquor store and a gay bar that had just closed.
They bought into it, Vern rolled up his decorating sleeves, and the guys went to work transforming it into a new club called The Barracks. “It was right next to the police department,” says Vern, “and they made sure we didn’t have any trouble.”
With a new logo, a spotless venue, military themed posters, t-shirts and dog tags, The Barracks became THE place to be. It had three bars, one of which was a piano bar, gay marines guarding the front door, all manner of parties and fundraisers held there, and a growing reputation for giving back to the community. They adopted an AIDS residence, supported many local charities, and won friends in the straight community as well as the growing gay community.
“We wanted to do it right,” says George, so they had long-term employees, offered benefits, and built the bar into a thriving business. Along with theme parties, big shows, and other entertainment, The Barracks sponsored the annual Beach Fest party—which hosted 20,000 people at Daytona Beach—and had an airplane flying over the sand with the sign The Barracks—Proudly Gay. They even had a bus for the event to pick people up at the beach and take them to the parties at the bar.
“The mayor of Daytona had never been to a gay bar, but he came to ours to campaign,” says George, proudly.
The fun and games lasted for eight years. In the end, though, it was tough keeping the bar drug free and free of trouble. “We did everything we could, with the police on our side, but it was tough,” says George. “We finally got tired of the fight.”
So what to do next? “Rehoboth was already on our radar,” says George, as they had rented a 40-ft RV one year and taken a ride up the East Coast. “I remember stopping at the 3-Season Campground on Route 24,” he recalls, “and discovering Rehoboth.”
After visiting a couple of times, staying at places like the Silver Lake Guest House, George and Vern got invited to a party in the Camelot mobile home park. Pretty soon they bought a place there, “on Princess Street, no less,” says Vern.
By the year 2000, they sold everything in Florida and moved to Rehoboth permanently. With ad agencies, window decorating, and gay bar ownership behind them, they settled in to their new life, using their skills to help start the quest for the Safe Haven No-Kill Shelter, helping at CAMP Rehoboth, and much more. We’re glad we’ve got ‘em!