Refuge for street kids fights for its life in inner city

Refuge for street kids fights for its life in inner city
All-ages Edmonton nightclub faces eviction
Elise Stolte, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Thursday, February 15, 2007

EDMONTON – A fledgling all-ages music venue in the rough heart of downtown is literally struggling to keep its doors open.

The landlord changed the locks two weeks ago, but the managers are still planning a nine-day series of benefit concerts starting Friday to either bring the site up to standard or find another venue.

"One way or another, we have to make it work," said Scott Ennis, who’s living in the building at the moment. He has 38 local bands booked, with more to be announced.
Scott Ennis manages the Studio, an all-ages nightclub that is holding a series of benefit concerts to help them renovate their inner-city site or, alternatively, find a new venue.

The Studio is on 105th Avenue at 95th Street, near where the downtown LRT line rises to ground level.

A ratty cardboard sign pinned up beneath the barred windows is the only hint the building is anything but a warehouse. It smells like stale beer from the bottle depot on the ground floor and sits across the street from a scrapyard.

The Studio hosts touring punk, rock and alternative acts such as Montreal bands the Matadors and the Sainte Catherines, and a wealth of startup bands seeking a stage and an audience.

Street kids come in to volunteer, getting away from the drugs and the cold for a couple of hours.

But the club doesn’t have a licence and the landlord doesn’t want trouble. The club’s eviction notice is dated Feb. 23.

"It’s nothing against them, but I don’t feel safe," said Harjinder Johal, who owns the warehouse and other Edmonton properties. "I’m a family man, a businessman, I don’t want to get stuck with the law. I don’t want this kind of thing in my building."

The Studio started renting the space 12 years ago, when a group of friends needed a place to jam.

Four years ago, one of them passed out with a cigarette and lit the room on fire. Fire crews put it out, and members of the group redid the room with an imposing 55-square-metre stage, graffiti art, couches and a row of arcade games.

They don’t sell alcohol, have a no-tolerance policy for hard drugs, welcome band members as young as 13, and are now booking up to 100 local bands a month. "We’re slowly becoming legitimate," said Ennis, who went to city planners last week to apply for a permit.

They need a business and a nightclub licence, said city technical adviser Dale Borecki.

But Johal isn’t willing to wait. The group is behind on the rent, which is $800 a month, and while the landlord hasn’t been to any of the shows, he said he originally rented the warehouse to a small group of friends and doesn’t want something this big in the same building as his bottle depot.

"I am in a cash business," Johal said. "We hand out a lot of cash, and once something happens … this is very scary."

The Studio does attract people off the street — people like Wayne Hebner, 22, who stopped by last week to help prepare for the benefit concert.

Hebner came to Alberta last year "to follow the oil dream," he said. But he didn’t have friends or the right training, so he lived on the streets for four months and got involved with drugs.

Then one night he heard the music through an open window, came inside and started to help out. Now he lives in Castle Downs with a friend he met at the Studio and has a casual job putting up drywall.

"I was into everything. Crystal meth, that was my favourite," he said. "The Studio got me out of that scene. It gives me something to be involved in. I love this place."

Many street kids beg to come in and help clean up after the shows, just to warm up, Ennis said. He lets them in when he can, and has 15 volunteer security guards on busy concert nights to keep things safe.

The venue seems safe, said Lee Lacey, a mother of three from Stony Plain. She books underage bands to play at the venue, including her 17-year-old son’s band, Missing in Action. When she comes, she has no problem bringing her two youngest boys, 12 and 9, to play the arcade games.

"It’s really well run, not just a garage-band kind of place," she said.

"I feel totally safe going outside there, and that’s the oddest thing (considering the location). It’s just a great place for kids to hang out, kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to shows like this.

"It would be tragic if these kids don’t have a place."

estolte@thejournal.canwest.com

SEE THE VIDEO

For a video tour of the Studio, go to Journal Videos at http://www.edmontonjournal.com

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