It takes hard work to make something nice, something long lasting and wonderful.
Something people will grow to love and support. It takes hard work and imagination. It takes brains, and it takes relentless optimism in the face of obstacles.
It takes the kind of intellect to know what works, what to change, and how to move forward and in these days of coronus-interuptus, it also takes patience and a steel stomach, because in these times, you can be doing all the right things, you can be doing above and beyond the right things, and it still doesn’t work out.
Even when you are doing:
I don’t know if I would be up to the task. It takes a special kind of mind, and a special kind of genius. It takes a steadfast belief in the core of your business and a pretty damn good stubborn streak
When Julie Leone and her husband Jimmy opened The Listening Room at 443, it was going to feature music, mostly acoustic singer/songwriter music at night, and be a funky coffee shop during the day. A place to hang out, get something to eat, a cup of coffee, see a great show, killer drinks. It was going to be a chill place to hang. It was going to be YOUR second living room, only cooler and all your friends will be there.
It was perfect.
On paper anyway.
They got threatened with a lawsuit soon after opening. Just what every new business needs.
Some joint in Nashville was claiming that the little bistro on Burnet Ave in Syracuse was violating their copyright on the name “Listening Room”. Anyone who’s been around music for a while will tell you that the claim is absurd. There was a clear case to fight the claim, but that would have taken time and money to litigate. Julie decided the easier route to keep momentum going was to give in and agree to change their name.
Changing a business name is not a minor thing. It’s on everything, every menu every table tent, all the gig flyers, the liquor licensee, everything. Not mention physical signage. It aint cheap.
It’s still cheaper than a lawsuit that you could lose anyway.
Path of least resistance, we don’t have time for this.
CHANGE IT, and move on, keep going.
The 443 Social Club and Lounge was born and they just kept chugging. Coffee, lunch, dinner, shows. It was on.
Well, not so on.
The coffee thing wasn’t working, even though the coffee was better by miles than that over roasted stuff that a certain national chain sells. There was plenty of parking on the street to run in and run out, there just wasn’t enough interest I guess. Blame it on habit, blame it on location, blame it on lack of walk up business in a city that drives everywhere I guess. Whatever. No time for blame. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t justify the effort and expense. Let it go.
Julie and Jimmy took the BEAUTIFUL espresso maker gifted to them by another local restaurateur and put it in storage, the space it took up wasn’t earning its keep. THAT had to be heartbreaking.
It was like chipping away part of their perceived identity, but numbers don’t lie
CHANGE IT, and move on, keep going.
The idea of being an event-driven business had to be terrifying. The original concept of being the cozy anytime hangout with a performance a couple times a week was slowly chipping away. The last piece was the lunch business. Sometimes not a single soul would come by.
The absolutely beautiful side patio space was opened for warmer months, but that didn’t draw like you would have thought.
But an odd thing started to happen. Something the Leone’s never imagined. The music events were taking off, and a lot of them were starting to sell out. Couple that with well attended book clubs, open mics and rock trivia nights and it looked like maybe the 443 was a music venue with great food, killer drinks, the best staff in town and the world’s BEST sound guy. (full disclosure, the sound guy is a friend, if you met him, you would love the guy. I love the guy.)
After jettisoning everything they thought the place would be, it’s true nature emerged and it was beautiful, and more importantly, they were finding a way to not lose money doing it. FINALLY!
CHANGE IT, and move on, keep going.
Shows were selling out, the people were eating/drinking. Happy faces everywhere sitting in the cozy furniture that the staff would literally remarriage nightly to suit the event of the evening.
Some of the best musical events of recent memory were in that room. Frenay/Lenin songwriter shows confirmed what we in Syracuse already know, that those guys can give a master class in songwriting prowess that rivals ANYONE you’ve ever heard of. The Soundcheck anniversary show, which sold out in 4 hours, was an emotional experience for so many as Dave Frisina presented one fantastic local musician after another in one of the best nights of music you could have ever dreamed of and oh by the way, the show went on in the middle of a snow storm. As one who has been listening to Dave since he started in this market it was particularly emotional. I was so much older then…
It finally looked that after 18 months of tweaks, changes, tears and decisions that they might be on their way. Things were starting to click. FINALLY they seemed to be on their way. TRACTION!
Nothing could stop them now.
Except for a global fucking pandemic.
Like everything else in the world, the 443 came to a halt as the buttoned up to try to weather the invisible storm that was bringing the world to a halt, gig cancellations literally flooded my inbox.
I wouldn’t have blamed Julie and Jimmy if they had thrown in the towel right then and there. They were creating something that made Syracuse a better place, and yes the work was exhausting but rewarding but exactly how many roadblocks does one small business owner have to circumvent? It’s like they’re characters in their own version of Sisyphus.
Instead, the play to was figure out what the requirements will be when business are allowed to reopen, and if you read Julie’s blog, she knew what the rules would or maybe better said, should be, be before the State of New York and the 443 would be doing even more than required in terms of collecting data for possible contact tracing and taking the temperature of everyone who came through the door.
The task at hand was, how to make the 443 as safe as possible in the age of Covid.
CHANGE IT, and move on, keep going.
Say goodbye to the cushy, stuffed furniture that made up so much of the place’s cozy identity, it cant be easily sanitized. Replace it with cabaret style tables and chairs. Get the artists to play 2 shows per night and split up the audience. Require tickets for ALL events, even free ones to control the crowd and to further help in the event contract tracing is required. Make better use of the patio space for outdoor entertainment.
As Julie said in her blog, she would rather padlock the doors for good than have someone get sick with this rotten thing in her place.
When NY State said bars and restaurants could open, she double checked on music with the State Liquor authority and in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS, was given the green light to resume business.
And people came back, for some, it was their first foray into any kind of music or restaurant since March and people followed the rules. People felt safe, the music was being played. It was starting up again.
You have to realize there is a cost associated with opening, closing and reopening. Inventory has to be managed, things have to be put away and secured, there is inventory that will spoil. It aint a zero cost proposition and for a business that , at the moment does not expect to turn a profit, (read that again), THEY DO NOT EXPECT TO TURN A PROFIT right now, that kind of expense and loss, means a lot.
But they were rolling, and it lifted people’s spirts. It did mine, and I haven’t even been there yet since the shut down. It meant we might just get through this.
On a Thursday, Julie announced that previously scheduled show with Griffin House would go on as scheduled. The club was open, safe guards were in place, people were into it, and Griffin was coming from a state that didn’t require quarantine. The next day it all came crashing down when the
State Liquor Authority “reminded” license holders that any music played should be “incidental” and “un-ticketed” and “cannot be the focus of the business”
“Reminded?” I hear you ask, “isn’t that in direct contradiction to what Julie was told not 3 weeks prior by the SLA?”
You bet your ass it is.
…Shut it down…again..
Look, I get it, these are uncharted times, and in New York we are proud of how we all have handled this public health emergency especially in an environment where we have a transnational crime syndicate in place of a functioning federal government, and in these days you have to be hyper aware of how we take care of one another. But I can tell you this, in the 443 you found the very example of how to responsibly conduct the music presentation business.
A listening room setting that is by design set up to limit traffic flowing both in the venue with poilicy and attentive service, and flowing through the door with a ticketing program that is designed to promote cohorts sharing tables and not random concert goes, a place that should be the place the SLA uses as an example, and not penalized.
A 400 person standing room show with elbow to elbow dancing is not the same.
Not all venues are
the same, and not all club owners are the same.
I am not here to beat up on the state or the SLA but If anyone at the SLA happens upon this story, I suggest you use the Leone’s as a resource on how to do this the right way because they know how and have executed it flawlessly.
For the rest of us who struggle with trying to simply function in this Covid world of ours, keep this in mind, this whole story, from day one to right now for the Leones took place in just under two years and they STILL haven’t given up, and neither should you. Weaker people would have thrown in the towel by now and I’ll bet more than once over this epic tale that Julie had that towel in her hand ready to toss.
The CDC said this week that 40% of Americans are dealing with depression or other emotional trouble because of this rotten virus, well I’m here to tell you that’s true, I’m one of them. This virus is terrifying but I will tell you this, I will have no hesitation going into the 443 when they are again allowed to reopen.
Before too long you might consider getting a VIP membership? You get some cool perks and tchotchkes. I’m sure going to.
Maybe the 443 is your second living room after all.
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