Just days after closing its doors because of financial struggles, Roncesvalles venue Hugh's Room has formed a committee to focus on restructuring and reopening as soon as possible.
In a statement released Thursday, Hugh's Room said the committee met for the first time Wednesday to discuss how to cut down on the west-end venue's debt and improve its business plan.
William 'Grit' Laskin, an internationally-renowned guitar maker based in Toronto, is the committee's spokesperson.
"There's so much belief in the goodwill this club has — as well as its value as a venue on this scene — that no one wants it to go," Laskin said. "There's willingness and connection and so many offers of help that it's doable, but precisely how is to be determined."
Laskin said local lawyer Brian Iler, a friend of Hugh's Room owner Richard Carson and a fan of the venue, had been in talks with Carson for some time about changing the club's ownership structure to a non-profit, board-run model.
After Carson closed the venue Sunday due to outstanding debt, Iler gathered a few people together to work on the club's future. Laskin said the group shared legal and financial advice, and got what he calls a "fuller picture" of what Carson had been dealing with for years.
"I think he was just struggling with the debt for so long, and the cash flow issues, and he realized he just wasn't going to be able to cover rent and payroll," Laskin said.
'There's work to do'
The committee of roughly 10 is planning to meet weekly until a strategy is in place.
"There's a will to go forward," Laskin said. "Everyone's feeling pretty positive, but there's work to do."
Since opening its doors 16 years ago, Hugh's Room has hosted thousands of concerts including the likes of Pete Seeger, Serena Ryder, Sylvia Tyson, Odetta, Jane Siberry, and Ron Sexsmith.
Laskin said that's created an international reputation for the venue, which has resulted in an outpouring of support from fans and artists alike. People have been asking what they can do to help — including volunteering to put on fundraising concerts, he said.
But right now, the committee is focused on long-term changes rather than the venue's short-term financial challenges. That includes looking into the possibility of buying the building that houses Hugh's Room, which would provide some security to the future ownership structure and open up opportunities to renovate.
"It's got a green room the size of a dime that's almost useless for bands," Laskin said. "It's got washrooms that need an overhaul, it's not wheelchair accessible — there are things that need doing that Richard would have loved to do but never had the dough."
Laskin said he's not surprised with the support the club has gotten this week. He attributes that to Carson's commitment to keeping Hugh's Room open all these years, providing a venue for artists to play and a place for people to enjoy live music.
"You have to support and believe in and love somebody with that kind of attitude," Laskin said. "That's the kind of attitude that keeps the arts alive."