Building the Perfect All-Ages Venue

A step-by-step primer

"If you just went to the city and said, 'Hey, I'd like to open a concert venue for kids—no alcohol, just kids,' the city is going to say, 'What are you—on fucking glue?'" says Chain Reaction's Hill with a laugh. "The only way I was able to do it was to open it as a coffee shop and have some time running, so the city could see how I ran the thing."

Plan on putting in lots of face time and money with the nice folks at city hall. Your property will need to be surveyed (ka-ching!) by various city agencies (ka-ching! ka-ching!) and then you'll have to deal with application fees (ka-ching! ka-ching! ka-ching!) before you can get that magical conditional-use permit. And don't forget a business license, an entertainment license, health department inspection and more, depending on your city, your facility and your intentions for the space.

"It's a long, hard process, and it's still not over," says AAA's Johnson. "Part of the reason we [got our permit] is because I'm crazy."

"Yeah," says AAA's Kim. "He'd go to City Hall every day; he'd go to City Council meetings every week—who in their right mind would do that?"

And so you've gotten this far: spent all your money, moved into your space, fought tooth-and-nail for your permits. Congratulations—now the real work begins.

"You might think, 'Okay, I've done a few shows, I can relax now,'" says Maciel. "Oh, no!"

You'll get bands begging you for shows at all hours. You'll get smartass friends trying to duck the cover charge. You'll get people trying to sneak contraband in. You'll get cops showing up just to check things out. And since you'll be the one at the door, you'll get to deal with it up close and personal.

"A lot of people run a venue like it's their living room or a garage," says Kim. "It's a business, and you have to run it that way."

So don't be stupid, she says. Don't let people drink alcohol in or around your space. Don't let them write on things or hang out in the parking lot. You don't have to be a total dad, but use some common sense. "Be polite," says Hill, "but stand your ground when you're right." And remember, you need to keep the bands as happy as you keep the kids.

"The reason Chain has been around so long is that I take care of the bands, and they take care of me," continues Hill. "They know they won't get fucked around. It's not worth it to try and get an extra $5 out of them—you have to give them a fair shake."

And don't forget that do it yourself doesn't mean do it by yourself. Take advantage of a music scene in which people want to get involved, says Lluy—there's always some way they can help out. "I'd be really happy to help out anybody," Lluy adds. "I've been almost begging people to start projects to pick up the slack we're leaving by not having our own place." And take advantage of an opportunity to make a real artistic contribution to the community, too. We love seeing bands, but we'd love a place to see them even more.

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