Union Jack celebrates 40th anniversary

Posted on 21 Jul 2011 at 7:22pm
JUST JACK  |  Union Jack owner Richard Longstaff stands behind the counter of his Cedar Springs Road store, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in August. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Cedar Springs store may be oldest gay-owned business still operating under original owner — who still retains British citizenship

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

In August, Union Jack, the clothing store on Cedar Springs Road, celebrates 40 years in business. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the store will run weekly specials through August.

Owner Richard Longstaff said his business is the oldest gay business with continuous ownership under the same name. He said Club Dallas may have been in business longer, but the name has changed as well as the ownership.

Longstaff opened Union Jack in 1971 on Hillcrest Avenue across from Southern Methodist University. About a year later, he began looking for a new location and moved to Cedar Springs Road because gays started moving to the area and, he said, because it was just a nice place to be.

Union Jack’s history

When Longstaff moved Union Jack to Oak Lawn, he said his was the only gay business on the street. Lobo bookstore was already there, but wasn’t a gay business at the time, he said, adding that he isn’t even sure if its owner was out yet.

But back then, Lobo, which in its later years was mostly known for selling gay porn videos and magazines, was originally a bookstore specializing in Texas history.

Other stores on the street didn’t particularly welcome Union Jack, a store that always marketed to the gay community, Longstaff said.

At the time, surrounding businesses included a pool hall where TapeLenders now stands and the Old Warsaw restaurant, located approximately where the Round-Up Saloon is today.

Across the street were a laundry where JR.’s is, an office supply store, a grocery and Adairs.

“Adair’s was a redneck bar,” Longstaff said. “They had a hard time adjusting to the street turning gay.”

As a gay Pride promotion, Longstaff once put two go-go boys and a drag queen in his store window. The folks at Adairs called the police.

The officers who answered the call thought the drag queen was a woman and realized the go-go boys were appropriately dressed, so Longstaff was allowed to continue his promotion.

Adairs finally gave up and moved, he said.

Back when Union Jack moved to the strip, a grocery stood where TMC: The Mining Company is now.

“There was never much on the shelves,” Longstaff said. “The grocery was a front for drug dealers.”

The grocery closed and reopened but was actually a Dallas Police Department drug sting operation.

Slowly other gay businesses moved onto the street. The Bronx opened in 1975. Under Arrest, which later became Nuvo, shared the space. Frank Caven opened his first Cedar Springs bar, called The Candy Store, in the mid-70s. TapeLenders opened in 1980, renting Beta tapes.

In 1989, a fire that began in the Gay Community Center next door to Union Jack destroyed much of that side of the street.

Union Jack moved to a temporary space next to Crossroads Market. Longstaff said that although the store was a total loss, regular deliveries continued arriving. Within two weeks, he had enough merchandise to reopen.

Rebuilding took about 18 months. He said the insurance company dragged its feet in paying claims, and that the Round-Up Saloon experienced the same delay.

Longstaff said both he and the building’s owner were underinsured. His insurance barely covered his loss, he said.

“We scurried around to buy used racks,” he said. “The store looked like crap but we knew it was a temporary location. Business fell off 50 percent.”

Longstaff would have preferred that the space beExa rebuilt with higher ceilings, he said, but insurance wouldn’t cover that. He said that when the new store opened, for the first time it looked like a professional retail establishment.

During his 40 years in business, Longstaff has relied on his own marketing sense. The store sold bellbottoms in 1971. He became Levi’s biggest vendor for 501s.

The farm and ranch line became popular in the gay community.

“We were selling 1,000 pair a month,” he said. “We were washing them before Levi washed them themselves.”
He had a commercial washing machine in the back to preshrink the denims to fit.

By the time of the fire, Levi was pre-washing 501s so the new store wasn’t outfitted with washers.

As 501s became common in mall stores, sales dropped at Union Jack and a few years ago, Longstaff said, he discontinued carrying the line.

Today, Longstaff likes to distinguish his store with products that are American-made by gay-owned companies. His store manager, Kim Johnson, said probably 18 of the brands they carry fall into that category including Andrew Christian, Pistol Pete, Guillermo and YMLA.

Longstaff’s history

Longstaff was born in Great Britain and came to this country in 1965. He first lived in Norman, Okla., where a former boyfriend from England was teaching.

That boyfriend sponsored him for a green card, something impossible since immigration laws were changed in 1968.

“At the time, immigration was open to northern Europeans,” he said.

Longstaff went to work for Braniff in the cargo department and moved to Dallas when he decided to open a retail store. For the first couple of years after opening Union Jack, he continued working for the airline.

Although getting his green card was easy, his attempt to become a U.S. citizen took more than eight years and went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Longstaff said he filled out the forms and went to immigration with two witnesses. The witnesses were interviewed and then Longstaff was questioned.

He said he was asked three times if he was a homosexual, each time louder and louder, the third time with a slam of the fist on the desk.

“Rather than perjure myself or show lack of candor, I answered,” he said. “Then they tried to pin me down.”

He admitted to having sex in Colorado — where it was legal — but had a sudden lapse of memory about where any other encounters may have taken place.

“Judge Joe Estes screamed and shouted at me,” Longstaff said, and the judge told immigration officers to find some reason to deny him citizenship.

The case was appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the denial of citizenship based on Longstaff having a psychopathic personality. Immigration law used the term and meant it to include gays and lesbians.

The American Psychological association, however, had recently changed its definition, so Rep. Barney Frank co-sponsored a law with Wyoming Republican Alan Simpson to remove homosexuality from the legal definition of psychotic personality in immigration law.

Based on that new law, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which denied hearing the case on the grounds that it would affect too few people.

Rep. Mickey Leland, who represented the Montrose area of Houston where Longstaff’s second store was located, challenged immigration officials. He asked if they were going to deport this business owner. He also had legislation prepared to keep Longstaff in the country if immigration officials did begin deportation procedures.

Immigration backed down and made a deal that they would return Longstaff’s green card if he agreed not to apply for citizenship again.

The story made international news, which is how he came out to his family when the story appeared in British newspapers.

Although achieving the status of owning the oldest gay business still owned by its original owner, Longstaff maintains his British citizenship to this day.

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