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Thursday, June 27, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Marketing In The Gay Community -- Supports Expand Among Non-Gay- Owned Businesses

Standing in the Broadway Market a year ago, Gary Thogersen heard a surprising remark.

The scene was a trade fair of companies that belonged to The Greater Seattle Business Association, a group of businesses owned by gays and non-gays that serve the gay and lesbian community. Real estate agents, cosmetologists, consultants - about 75 in all - staffed booths to promote their products and services.

Next to Thogersen were a pair of middle-aged women, talking among themselves. One said quietly to the other, "I didn't realize so many of these people were in business."

The words brought a smile to Thogersen's face, and a feeling that the group has indeed come a long way. Celebrating its 10th year, The Greater Seattle Business Association's membership has grown to 505 companies. Held in esteem by gays and lesbians, especially during Gay Pride Week this week, the group in many ways has surpassed expectations of longtime members.

It started as a group of a dozen lesbian or gay business people, seeking support among themselves through monthly meetings held at Triple's restaurant along Lake Union.

"It's (like) a gay Kiwanis or Lions Club because of the things we do," said Thogersen, the group's president. Members often talk about issues of interest in the community, and the group has been active in community service.

"When people see who we are, they have a different concept of us," Thogersen said. "Not as murky people existing in the night, but as men and women."

Today, however, its mission has grown beyond simply supporting members and doing community service to a much larger task: seeking broader acceptance of their organization from non-gay businesses.

There have been good signs already, Thogersen said, such as the group's efforts to work with the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce to study ways of recycling business waste, and its involvement in a survey of crime prevention in the Pike-Pine corridor area of Capitol Hill.

"The first 10 years we were dedicated to building a stronger organization of gay and lesbian business people," Thogersen said. "Now it's time to get the message out to the rest of the community that we are a strong organization. We are part of the community and we want to work together."

Thogersen believes the group will get its message across because it's communicated in a language all business people understand: money.

Research shows that 5 percent to 10 percent of the nation's gay population are educated and paid at a rate far higher than the U.S. average. A survey by Simmons Market Research Bureau shows average household income is $47,800, and that six out of 10 have graduated from college.

More business owners who are not gay are advertising in the GSBA's business directory. Members receive a listing after paying their $70 membership fee. The free directory can be found at companies that cater to the gay population, and also at places such as the University of Washington Bookstore.

Inside the guide is a calendar of events, listings of community services, a history of Seattle's gay and lesbian population, messages from political figures such as Gov. Booth Gardner and Mayor Norm Rice, and additional advertisements members have bought.

The owners of Paparazzi Ristorante in Seattle said a listing in the membership directory has garnered more business.

"We know from general information that's out there that (gays and lesbians) tend to have a lot of disposable income - more than the average person," said Peter Bodnarchuk, co-owner of Paparazzi. "In our marketing plans we think about targeting groups that can bring us the most money. They have been very good customers."

The favorable demographics gays represent should lead to broader acceptance, others in business say.

"If the money's out there, I think business owners, gay, lesbian and non-gay, want to get that money," said Harley Broe, who runs an accounting firm and is a principal in the City People's Mercantile and City People's Garden Store in Seattle.

It's hard to say how many gay consumers patronize the City People's stores, Broe said, because the stores attract a diverse clientele. But she says the store attracts a number of gay customers partly because of the directory.

At least half her accounting clients have come as a result of her directly listing, she estimates.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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