Obituary: Harvey Hertz started A Brother's Touch

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 8, 2014 - 8:20 PM

Short in stature but long on courage, Harvey Hertz opened Minneapolis’ first gay bookstore and mentored hundreds in the gay and lesbian community who struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, problems he himself overcame.

At A Brother’s Touch, he sold biographies by gay authors, along with newspapers, comic books and literature that were not carried by mainstream bookstores. The shop, which opened in 1983 at Franklin and Nicollet Avenues and later moved to 2327 Hennepin Av. S., provided gay men not interested in the bar scene with a place to hang out and form friendships.

“It was popular, and became a magnet for people coming out,” said Tim Campbell, retired publisher of the GLC Voice newspaper. “In the early ’80s, you didn’t have a Starbucks on every corner. That made the Brother’s Touch a great place, as important as any of the restaurants or coffee bars.”

Hertz died June 27 of complications related to COPD at Spirit on Lake, a housing development for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors. He was 73.

Hertz grew up in the New York borough of Brooklyn in the 1950s. He loved music and as a teenager formed a doo-wop quartet called the El-Tones with three close friends. He sang tenor, and despite not being able to read music, was a talented piano player and wrote the ensemble’s songs. Four were recorded and two are on YouTube, said his brother, Barry, of New Milford, N.J.

By his late teens, Hertz was struggling with drugs and alcohol, problems that dominated his life for 20 years until he came to Minnesota for treatment. Once sober, he turned to his second love, literature, and opened A Brother’s Touch.

“He was a pioneer to undertake and open something like that. He had the courage to do it before others did,” said Gary Mazzone, outreach sales director for Magers & Quinn bookstore in Minneapolis. “He was always there to greet you and give you recommendations. He always remembered you.”

His store was occasionally vandalized with broken windows and spray-painted slurs. The telephone company wanted to list the business as adult entertainment and not a bookstore until Hertz threatened to sue, his brother said.

Despite all the obstacles, Hertz persevered. He brought in authors for readings and continued with his mission of educating people about what it meant to be gay.

“He wanted people to know there were different lifestyles,” Barry Hertz said. “He wanted to educate people that there was more to life and being gay than sex. He wanted them to have knowledge and pride in being gay.”

Harvey Hertz gave the store’s original iconic sign of two men reaching toward each other, along with several pieces of literature and pictures, to the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at the Andersen Library.

At times, Hertz could be gruff, but it was always part of his character to be generous, said Jean-Nickolaus Tretter, for whom the collection is named.

Hertz was a longtime member of 12-step recovery programs in the Twin Cities and stood by others who sought to break free from alcohol and drug addiction, said longtime friend Bob White of Minneapolis.

“He opened his heart, home and pocketbook to those who wanted to recover from addiction,” White said. “When people got to recovery, they found the voice of a caring gay man. He was the sane voice in the program, and courageous.”

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768

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