Hughs Room will reopen as a not-for-profit

Hughs Room has announced it will reopen on March 15, The Ides Of March, with a fundraising event before resuming.

Hughs Room has announced it will reopen on March 15, The Ides Of March, with a fundraising event before resuming regular programming March 16 with a Lennie Gallant concert.

The 225-seat west-end roots venue, which closed suddenly on January 6 amidst financial troubles, is in the process of being registered as a new not-for-profit called Hughs Room Performing Arts Inc.

The working committee behind the effort to save the club had initially aimed to reopen March 3 with a concert by the Good Brothers, but that proved to be too soon. (The club is currently working to reschedule that show, possibly at the end of March.)

We were aiming for March 3, even though social media turned it into a definite [thing], which never was the case. We were hoping, committee spokesperson, luthier and member of the Order of Canada Grit Laskin tells NOW.

[So] we worked backwards: How much time do we need to get staff back up to speed, get the kitchen stocked again and get a few immediate repairs done?

The new entity plans to purchase the clubs assets (mostly sound and lighting equipment) from Hughs Room owner and founder Richard Carson, with the long-term goal of buying the building from the landlord so they can do washroom upgrades, renovate the kitchen and make the venue accessible. Carson will remain involved as a valued member.

He will be a member of the non-profit board in an honourary position, and well find some way to make sure hes compensated in at least a small degree going forward, says Laskin, because hes the founder and its his concept and hes part of setting the tone.

The feasibility of reopening March 15 hinges on the success of a fundraising campaign already under way. Its goal is to raise $30,000 by February 20 in order to reopen March 15, another $30,000 by March 5 and a grand total of $150,000 by July.

If we dont hit $30,000 by February 20, everyone who donated will be given their money back and well say, We tried, but we cant do it, says Laskin. But already some money has come in, so we feel pretty confident.

The initial $30,000 is to help the club reopen, cover rent and staff salaries, do upgrades and cover the cost of comping tickets. Some people who purchased tickets to cancelled shows have received refunds through their credit card companies, but others have yet to be compensated.

Laskin says Hughs Rooms financial difficulties were due to ongoing debt that began when the club opened in 2001, when initial renos cost more than planned. The good news, according to Laskin, is that an accountant recently looked at the books and found that if you remove the debt, Hughs Room is viable.

Based on the last two years, even with ups and downs, sell-outs and some nights with only 34 people, over the course of a year its possible to carry on in a way that is similar. Not exactly the same, but similar [to how Carson was running it].

Named after Carsons brother Hugh, the venue is unique for being a full restaurant and dinner club as well as a live music venue, though thats also part of the challenge, since both elements need to make money.

The sightlines and the sound are much better than average, and performers love being there because it feels so warm. Even the Judy Collinses of the world who play big halls are happy to do three nights at Hughs Room, says Laskin. Its got an international reputation: American and UK performers want a gig at Hughs Room on their CV.

Its also a listening room. You can literally hear the dishes rattle. And its programming includes not only folk music but blues, world and jazz.

I think its important to keep it eclectic, Laskin says. All those other genres are also struggling for places to play that are listening rooms places where audiences listen to the lyrics and hear every note played. The sound crew is the best in the city.

Laskins been involved with Hughs Room since the beginning and has put on 30 or so album launches for Bor-ealis, a label he co-founded. The rest of the working committee includes Jeremy Darby, owner of the Canterbury Music Company studio Howard Gladstone long-time Hughs Room publicist Jane Harbury Brian Iler Laskins wife, Judith, Brian Litvin Bill McKetrick Hughs Room booker Colin Puffer Ross Robinson Frank Saunders and Rob Young, all of whom are donating their time to get the club back on track.

People who dont care about the money but are following their passion and have a talent for it thats whats behind all the arts, says Laskin. The people making a lot of money in the arts are the tiniest fraction. And then a little subset below them are people making an okay living. And then a whole bunch of people just struggle all the time but dedicate their lives out of an honest passion for what they do. I put Richard in that category opening a club and pouring everything youve got into it and making it your life.

Without that there wouldnt be an arts scene of any kind. Theatre, dance, music, crafts, fine arts you have to support that stuff and persevere. Thats an important goal in life. We all sense that around this group, and thats why were there.

A fundraiser takes place February 9 at 8 pm at Canterbury Music Company (322 Dufferin), featuring Noah Zacharin, Blair Packham and Jen Schaffer and the Shiners. Pwyc ($30 suggested). | @sarahegreene

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