Little Brother's to close?

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

"While business has been good this year, this increase is more than I can afford. The entertainment business goes through so many highs and lows, an agreement of this nature could crush us the next time we hit a slow period. Clearly, if I am asked to leave by summertime, that gives me little time to relocate the club, which is not something I am sure I can endure again anyway."

When Dougan talks about relocating the club "again," he refers to 10 years ago, when his revered North Campus club Stache's was forced to shut down and he moved his business to the current Short North location. I don't blame him for not giving it a third try after suffering the same fate twice over. But if Dougan bows out, hopefully somebody will approach him about acquiring his liquor license and starting up a similar venture. As much as people like to complain about Little Brother's (it's drab, the sound is weird because the room is shaped funny, you need at least 100 people there or else your show seems vacant, etc.), the bar is one of Columbus' most important venues.

New York City has seen several storied clubs, including Sin-E and Tonic, shut down due to rent concerns this year, and while that can't be good for the music scene, it's not like the Big Apple lacks options for touring indie musicians. John Zorn and Jim O'Rourke will find somewhere else to get their avant-garde on.

But in Columbus, unless somebody else steps up and establishes a new club (preferably in a more attractive space), the absence of a venue that performs Little Brother's function will be a crushing blow. LB's is the default destination for touring indie rock bands and locals looking to host a big party. Planning a local CD release? You book Little Brother's. Getting national buzz but can't fill the Newport? You book Little Brother's. Without it, stuff like Arcade Fire stopping by on their first tour or all those early Decemberists shows or Silver Jews making a rare appearance in Columbus doesn't happen. The list goes on and on and on.

Skully's Music Diner is a good venue (no, seriously), but I don't see it picking up Little Brother's slack. Perhaps Carabar and Ravari Room can carry the torch somewhat, but they can't hold nearly as many people as LB's. Treebar is way too small. The Wexner Center has booked some high-profile shows of late that would normally come to LB's, but the Wex can't do the kind of day-to-day business the bar does, and even if they could, their quality control is much too high for that sort of thing. (And, uh, they don't have liquor.) Bernie's? Don't even get me started. Even if the existing locations can maintain the steady stream of high-profile indies that come through town (which I doubt), that will likely mean less opportunities for locals to get on a big stage. As hard as it is to get people to come out to shows these days with so many options, fewer venues doesn't seem like the answer. Here's hoping it doesn't come to that.


Full text of Dougan's note after the jump...

To friends, family, fans, musicians and community,

There are rumors flying that Little Brother’s is being “taken over” or replaced by new ownership, so I thought it was important to clarify our current situation.

Just as we are hitting Little Brother’s ten-year anniversary in the Short North this May, I have apparently reached an impasse with the landlord of the building, who has informed me, through his lawyers, that the only new lease he will offer me includes, among other stipulations, an immediate increase in rent of over 40 percent, and annual increases. It has been clearly implied that someone else has offered this amount for the space and that I could be asked to vacate the premises before summer begins.

This came as a surprise, because I had negotiated terms face-to-face with my landlord earlier this year and we verbally agreed upon incremental increases over the next five years that would have been difficult, but not impossible, for us to accommodate over that time. He promised to send the new terms of the lease in writing. Soon after, he stopped responding to my calls and recently began communicating with me only via his attorney.

While business has been good this year, this increase is more than I can afford. The entertainment business goes through so many highs and lows, an agreement of this nature could crush us the next time we hit a slow period. Clearly, if I am asked to leave by summertime, that gives me little time to relocate the club, which is not something I am sure I can endure again anyway.

Ten years ago, when Stache’s building was torn down, I was invited by the previous management company of 1100 N. High St. to move into the neighborhood between campus and the Short North, which, at the time, was a much more barren place. They wanted an anchor business to attract more people and businesses to the area, and gave me reasonable rent so that I could develop that business.

Still, moving cost more than I could have imagined – there was a battle when I had to have the building rezoned, and that, combined with designing and building the stage, the bathrooms, the bar, the cooler, the sound stage, was extremely costly. In the first two or three years, we struggled month to month and I was often uncertain that we would survive.

Just as we finally stabilized, the current landlord came along and bought the building, offering far more for it than I could afford. Negotiating with him proved challenging. We have endured one difficult rent increase after another, while responsibly maintaining the inside of the building. We have had some good years and bad ones, but ultimately persevered through many tight times. The added financial burden made it difficult for me to make the business the one I had imagined.

Over time, it became clear that this man did not understand the nature of our business, or the important role it has played in bringing a diverse range of music to Columbus and supporting the local music scene. Often, I was told, that a restaurant, or the building re-carved into some kind of mini-mall would make better tenants, in spite of the fact that he has had a difficult time keeping any retail tenants in the storefronts to our north, outside of the Plasma Center. We may have struggled, but overall, we have been good, reliable tenants.

I can’t claim responsibility for the way the neighborhood has transformed into the little bohemia it has become over the past decade, but I do think that our presence contributed, and made it a much more attractive option for several of the businesses that relocated from South Campus, as well as new ones.

Last year, I was approached by a couple of young men from out of state who wanted to buy my business and continue the legacy of Stache and Little Brother’s. After nearly 20 years of this up and down business, I was ready to pass the torch, remain as an advisor to the business and try something new. We reached preliminary terms, but it came to a halt when they were unable to come to any agreement with the landlord.

So that brings us to today. The landlord has refused to sit down face-to-face and work out a compromise. Because his terms are unacceptable, I believe that it is just a matter of time before Little Brother’s is asked to leave the premises.

I have a liquor license, some gear, the good name of one of the last remaining long-standing, independent live music nightclubs in the country and some expertise I can hopefully sell. But at this time, the cost of moving and starting over is just too much. The lifestyle of a music promoter is like professional gambling. When I was younger and still “at the party,” it was all well and good. But my wife, and our son, who is turning two in May, deserve a more stable lifestyle. I also have health issues that the added stress will not help.

For our tenth anniversary and perhaps Dan’s retirement, we’re asking for your stories about Little Brother’s (and Stache’s, for you old-timers). Write up something about your memories, your favorite show, what the clubs have meant to you, or whatever strikes you and send it to

If this is the end, I need to thank my immediate staff, some of whom have been with me for many, many years, for their efforts and support. There will be time for the numerous personal thank yous that I need to say later. For now, let me begin to express my gratitude to all of the players, payers, workers and wonks who have kept me in this game for almost 20 years – not much time to a mountain, but nearly half of my life.

Take care of your little brothers and sisters. Your pal, Dan Dougan