Located next to the Chaos Café in Southeast Portland, The Parlour stands humbly, bearing its mustachioed logo to the street and beyond. Enter the small peeling doorway and you are greeted with the fragrant warmth of cozy locality, low ceilings and dim lighting.
Located next to the Chaos Café in Southeast Portland, The Parlour stands humbly, bearing its mustachioed logo to the street and beyond. Enter the small peeling doorway and you are greeted with the fragrant warmth of cozy locality, low ceilings and dim lighting. The walls are tastefully decorated with local art, in the true Portland fashion; abstract portraits of tree-women and birds, colorful swirls of landscapes and leaves.
The Parlour sports all the requirements for a hip, local space: hand-knitted cat hats, locally made rings and magnets, vegan cookies and a collection of literature ranging from Ayahuasca and marijuana to 2012 conspiracies, ancient wisdom and dancing serpents. The female singer onstage takes a moment behind the mic to say, “Thanks for coming, you guys are here for a really great cause. The Parlour has been really good to me.”
For the past few months, The Parlour has been hosting an array of benefit shows in hopes to keep their business afloat, but things are starting to look grim.
Mike Harper, Ian McEwan and Jonathan Cruz were employees at Chaos Café when they began brainstorming ideas to fill the empty space that was the other half of the café. It had always been a dream of theirs to own and run a music venue, seeing it as a sort of “springboard” for their fellow artists and musicians. It wasn’t the supply of talent that was the obstacle though—it was, unsurprisingly, the lack of monetary funds.
“If we had begun with more money,” Cruz said, “it would have been a whole different story, but because all our funds came out of our pockets and from family and friends, it was really hard to begin with.”
The group couldn’t receive a loan from the bank because they had no experience running a business. Often times, to run a successful business, you need a loan from the bank.
To postpone the closing at the end of May, the three agree that it would take about $5,000 and/or the purchasing of beer on tap or an espresso machine, but they all seem at peace knowing the Parlour’s closing is on the horizon.
The three co-owners have worked over a year basically for free, voluntarily spending hours on the construction, design and management of the venue, barely breaking even each month. Their vision was to enable people of all ages to enjoy the rich Portland music scene in a very personal and warm environment.
Unfortunately, the world as we know it, or rather, the Portland as we know it, makes it incredibly difficult for all-age venues to stay afloat. The music venue industry makes most of its profit from liquor sales, which requires jumping through a whole other set of fiery circus rings, in addition to their already numerous business licenses and regulations.
“We’re happy we got to do it at all,” Cruz said.
The shows throughout May will be mostly benefit shows, some of them hosted by Portland State’s radio station KPSU. Depending on donations, who knows what could happen?
The real problem at hand is much larger than the potential closing of The Parlour, it’s the subjugation of the youth. Mississippi Studios, Doug Fir Lounge, Dante’s, Mt. Tabor Theater, Holocene—all are 21+. The worst part is not that a specified group of individuals is not permitted to enter certain venues. The worst part is that their denial is a result of the presence of alcohol.
Not only does that perpetuate the youths’ anarchical desire to obtain what it is told it cannot, it also stagnates social and creative growth, and furthers the youths’ dependence on technological representations of music, which are far from any sort of live experience. Sober minds not already jaded by years of alcoholic socialization will be the most receptive to the music that is being presented to them on stage. It is said that music is the most complex form of social interaction of all earthly species, not an elitist privilege.
So is the problem rooted in the licensing, funding and regulations? Is it the fear of change? Or is it the embarrassment of sharing a venue with your inferiors? Won’t opening to an all-ages crowd bring in more business to both the venue and the musicians? Surely to be unanswered, the questions and obstacles regarding the struggling industry of Portland’s all-ages venues will bring yet another business to its close. Another empty building, another lost community.