Downtown all ages venue set to close

Amidst news on Intercity Transit’s Bicycle Commuter contest and a review of issues surrounding Capitol Lake, the April 20 Olympia Power and Light edition sported three tragic words on its cover: “Northern to Close.”

Turning to page 10, a too-familiar story reads like so: “In the wake of the closure of the Loft on Cherry Street comes some more disturbing news. According to Mariella Luz, booker and manager for The Northern all ages performance and gallery space, the building at 321 4th Avenue was sold to new owners.”

The short article by Tucker Petertil goes on to comfort community members by informing that, “The Northern will remain at its current location throughout the summer and perhaps for as long as nine months,” and that “Mariella and other Northern staffers are looking into other empty downtown building spaces that could meet their needs.”
According to Petertil, the building will be made into apartments after the “perhaps nine months” are over.

Persons participating in music and arts downtown between 2006 and now may recall a similar story playing out at several of their favorite all ages venues and galleries in Olympia.

The Manium closed its doors as a performance space in 2005. The glory of the Yes-Yes rose and fell by 2006.

The building is now Angel’s Thai Cuisine. Artisan’s Café and the Black Front Gallery closed down in 2008. What was Artisan’s now houses Siti Lites bar and restaurant. The former Black Front Gallery is Yolli Shoes.

The Loft, which reopened as an art space in 2008 and the Northern, opening in 2009, were inspiring new resources to showgoers, performers, and artists, breathing new hope into a town that had lost so many cultural resources.

The “Save the Loft!” movement of this past winter was an energetic effort doused by an eventual decision by Fish Brewing Company to use the Loft as a storage area.
According to a statement written by Tim Smith, the former caretaker of the Loft just prior to the close on the venue’s website, “On February 28, The Loft on Cherry will be vacating the Fish Brewing building to allow for expansion of the brewery.”

Concerning the role of the Brewery in closing the Loft, Smith said, “Throughout those two and a half years, I have never lost sight of the fact that the Loft existed courtesy of the brewery, who leased the space to me.”

Smith goes on to give balanced credit to a variety of factors at play since the announcement of the venue’s use.

“I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support for the Loft during the past several months, and I respect the various and varied opinions and perspectives that have been posted online, expressed in forums and presented in front of the city council,” said Smith. “Fish Brewery is an asset to downtown and deserves the community’s support. The growth Fish is experiencing is good for the brewery and good for Olympia – Olympia has had a brewery continuously since 1896, and hopefully always will.”
This statement brings up an important matter to consider in the dismay of losing a venue: the economic well-being of local businesses.

Brandon Root, one half of melodic folk duo Ciel, has been attending shows and playing shows at all ages venues and house venues since he was 14.

“As a performer, it was always handy to have a local venue that allowed all ages music to play,” said Root. “I highly doubt [my bandmate] Trevor and I would have been able to book a show at the China Clipper or 4th Ave Tavern, we were very lucky to have the opportunity to play to a wide range of people despite our younger age.”

As well as enjoying other people’s art, Root played with Ciel at the Manium, the Yes-Yes, Artisan’s Café, and the Loft on Cherry, as well as the Capitol Theater and Chez Puget.

“One of my favorite memories was playing at the Yes-Yes with Golden Shoulders and June Madrona,” said Root. “Each band set up in a different corner of the room and we would switch off every song like some crazy jukebox.”

There is something besides sound that is shared at a venue open to anyone interested in wandering in.

“The connections I made with people, even if it was only for a few hours on a Friday night could not be replicated elsewhere,” said Root. “Every show was a chance to talk to someone from somewhere I’d never been and listen to their art, and really talk about what it means.”

With the number of needs that all ages venues fulfill for the people in this city, it seems natural to strongly defend the spaces we enjoy.

It also seems natural to try to label the loss of venues as a pattern of decline. When asked if there was a pattern of aesthetic places turning to for-profit businesses, Root offered the reply, “I don’t know if I can elaborate on any trends of where the local all-ages spaces are disappearing to. It seems like a venue gets lucky every other year or so and has a decent standing for a while until for one reason or another things end up not working out.”

This echoes Smith’s resolve in his written piece on the Loft homepage, “I also know that the vitality of Olympia’s music and art community isn’t dependent on any single location. Art and music will happen wherever artists and musicians gather.”