Thanks to a generous landlord, the 31-year-old Castro travel agency Now, Voyager has a new lease on life.
This week, Now, Voyager owner Peter Greene hung the shingle of the iconic LGBT travel agency at 4115 19th St., in the small Victorian storefront next door to Spike's Coffee.
Greene found the "greatly discounted" commercial space through landlord Joe Chavez, a longtime client of Now, Voyager. When Now, Voyager was evicted from its former location on 18th Street near Douglass several years ago, and former owner Jonathan Klein died suddenly, Chavez knew he wanted to help his longtime friends and business associates to keep the business intact.
Greene and Klein launched Now, Voyager in 1983 with a focus on providing exceptional attention to their clientele.
"We worked very hard to bring our customers personal, high-quality service," said Greene. "Our motto always was, 'We want to get you the most for your hard-earned dollars.'"
Although Now, Voyager had a loyal following, the travel business has faced enormous challenges in recent years, said Greene, who has worked in the industry for five decades. In addition to airlines cutting agency fees and customers turning to online travel sites, the proprietors of Now, Voyager faced additional difficulties.
In the 1980s, just as their business was gaining steam, the AIDS epidemic struck. Both Greene and Klein soon learned they too were HIV-positive and were dealing with their own health issues.
Their troubles intensified several years ago when Klein and Greene were forced out of their home of 27 years through an Ellis Act eviction and, soon after, the same landlord refused to renew their commercial lease.
Klein, who suffered from depression for many years, took his own life in April of 2013 by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. In a note left to friends, he apologized and said that he couldn't face all of the losses.
At Klein's memorial service, Joe Chavez told Greene that he would do "anything possible" to help save the business. Greene had retired from Now, Voyager at that point,but when Klein's will named him the owner of the business, "I couldn't just walk away," said Greene.
Greene added that when Chavez gave him a discounted rate on the 19th Street space, he couldn't say 'no' to reopening the business.
Right now, Greene identifies his top challenge as finding additional travel professionals who want to work at Now, Voyager. He has already hired one employee with over 30 years of corporate experience who will start work on Monday, but needs someone with web experience to help him update the website.
Although Greene's home is now in Palm Springs, he plans to travel back and forth to get the business off its feet. He hopes to have it fully staffed at least five days a week.
Greene began his career in travel when he was a 19-year-old college student in Colorado and had a jack-of-all trades job with a regional airline. He then formed a company to organize gay bike trips to China, "before either China or gay was on anyone's radar." Klein was the first person to sign up for the China trip and the two became fast friends, and soon, business partners.
"Jonathan was an absolutely amazing and wonderful person," said Greene tearfully. "I miss him every day."
If you're looking for a travel agent, a travel career, or can help Greene update his website, he can be reached at Now, Voyager's longtime phone number (415) 626-1169 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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