After more than four decades as an anchor in Baltimore's gay community and the Mount Vernon business district, The Hippo will close this fall and the site will be converted into a CVS Pharmacy.
The nightclub first opened as a gay establishment at the corner of North Charles and Eager streets in 1972. CVS plans to open a drugstore in the space in late 2016, the club's longtime owner, Charles L. "Chuck" Bowers, confirmed in a club statement Monday.
A date has not been set for the club's last night, though it will come after the city's big Baltimore Pride festivities this summer, and events still are being booked through the summer and early fall.
Bowers, the club's sole owner since 1978, will maintain ownership of the building but will lease it to CVS Health. The Rhode Island-based chain has agreed to keep the club's historic exterior — the building started as the Chanticleer Club in the late 1930s — "basically intact" through the changeover, the club's statement said.
The lease agreement was signed last month. Michael DeAngelis, a CVS Health spokesman, said the company is in the "early planning stages" for the new store.
The company has nearly 30 locations in Baltimore and employs more than 500 people in the city.
Bowers, who was not available for comment Monday, recently turned 70 and made the decision to close the Hippo's doors with "truly mixed emotions," the statement said.
Gilbert Morrisette, the club's longtime director of operations, said the club held a meeting on Saturday for its staff — about 45 people if you include all the disc jockeys and performers who frequent the club — to explain Bowers' decision.
Since then, there has been an outpouring of support from members of the community and longtime customers, Morrisette said — with everyone reminiscing about good times spent there.
"Our motto was, 'Where everybody is welcome,' and it's held true over the years," Morrisette said. "It will be missed."
Located across the Charles and Eager intersection from Grand Central, another longtime gay establishment, The Hippo has helped to serve as a central meeting point for the LGBT community for decades.
With few exceptions, including last summer's events, the city's annual Baltimore Pride block party has revolved around the intersection, bringing LGBT and allied people from around the state to Mount Vernon and through the Hippo's doors.