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Local 506: for sale 

Glenn Boothe at Local 506

Photo by Justin Cook

Glenn Boothe at Local 506

Glenn Boothe gloats about the upcoming calendar for Local 506, the Chapel Hill music venue he's owned since 2004.

Legendary Japanese spazzes Melt-Banana will play the West Franklin Street institution in early November. Chelsea Light Moving, the new band from Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, will likely lead to a line of late ticket buyers down the sidewalk outside the 250-capacity club in late October. The fall schedule also includes instrumental metal from Pelican, breezy folk-pop from Denison Witmer and dark dance music from Cold Cave.

Boothe has worked to bring these shows to his space by making offers and signing contracts and printing posters. But, with a 3-year-old son at home, he reckons that he likely won't even see most of the bands he's booked to play his stage.

That's the main reason Boothe is seeking to sell Local 506 by the end of the year.

"This morning, I was making the schedule for September, and I thought, 'Oh, wow, we have some good shows coming. But I can't work this one, and I can't work this one, and I can't work this one,'" he says, laughing with disappointment. "Other obligations are preventing me from getting the fulfilling aspect of the work I put into Local 506."

He's still not certain about an asking price, or whether he might consider the possibility of a partnership with new owners. But he is sure that he doesn't want the decades-old room to close, even if he's done.

Cat's Cradle owner Frank Heath, who served as a mentor of sorts for Boothe, says that losing Local 506 would be tantamount to a sports team losing its young star. And Boothe has been an essential part of that value.

"His emphasis on balancing a mix between local and touring acts has also been very important to growing and encouraging the talented bands and musicians in this area," he says. "When a longstanding club closes, a lot of its institutional knowledge and history often goes with it."

When Boothe purchased Local 506 nearly a decade ago, his circumstances were different, as was the surrounding market for music. The recent groundswell of new clubs in the region—from the horde of rooms that have opened in nearby Durham to the revitalized-and-506-sized Kings in Raleigh— had yet to take hold. Boothe, meanwhile, had returned to Chapel Hill after stints in radio and at record labels, and he was a single guy who, as he puts it, liked beer and bands. He never intended to open a rock club, but when Local 506 went up for sale, he thought it was a good opportunity to pursue those interests.

Boothe's life changed when he became a father in 2010. Now, he says, being present for his son, Walter, is a higher priority than being present for some touring band's early load-in.

"There are often times I am at home with my son with my computer open, just trying to stay up on email," he says. "Is that ideal? The club is like having another kid."

Boothe isn't leaving Local 506 to become a stay-at-home dad, necessarily; his decision shapes a much more complex calculus. For rock clubs at large—especially in college towns such as Chapel Hill—summers can be taxing, with students spending their breaks back home. Touring acts tend to avoid spending their days in a hot, sticky van, and those that do hit the road aim toward summer music festivals. Most every summer has been progressively worse for business, Boothe says, and this one has been the hardest yet for getting listeners into the room.

Meanwhile, longtime bar manager Rusty Sutton moved to Asheville in June to take a job at another venue, leaving Boothe to re-evaluate how every member of his staff contributed to the club's daily needs. They've grown pretty good at handling those tasks in only a few months, he says. As an owner, Boothe prefers to be active in his business and is a self-described perfectionist; he's become a functional plumber and has worked through dozens of ideas to get people into his room on nights when a big rock show isn't pulling through town. Being less involved doesn't seem personally sustainable.

"Do I keep tinkering with this idea, or do I stop and change the conversation?" he says. "Even if 506 gets to the point where it's running itself and I'm as hands-off as I'd like to be, am I going to be happy running a rock club that I can't really go to? That's the crossroads I've hit."

Boothe's successful tenure at Local 506 has, in large part, been a byproduct of the personal devotion and business planning he's put into the space. Jason Kutchma, who leads the bands Red Collar and JKutchma & the Five Fifths, described his initial impression of Boothe as "a pain in the ass." When Kutchma first asked if he could play Local 506, Boothe told him to build a fan base first at coffee shops and art spaces. But Kutchma admits that Boothe was right and says the lesson proved valuable.

Chapel Hill musician John Harrrison—who played the club under its previous ownerships and under Boothe's reign as well—says Boothe revived an area treasure and made it sustainable when few others could have.

"He ran it as a business, and philosophically and fundamentally he worked to keep music coming to that place," says Harrison. "As a music industry guy, I think he was able to avoid a lot of pitfalls, too. No matter what's happened with Local 506, it's been able to survive."

Such survival is essential to the reputation of Chapel Hill and Carrboro as towns with vibrant artistic offerings, says Meg McGurk, executive director at the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership. Boothe has sat on McGurk's board for years, trying to increase cooperation between municipal government and the businesses he believes make it more than just a college town.

"Chapel Hill and Carrboro have bred a culture that has fostered music talent, and it gives us a name elsewhere," McGurk says. "Having a venue like 506 that's constantly programmed with new acts adds to the diversity of options we have for people, because not everyone wants to go to Memorial Hall. I am hoping that someone who is a businessman or businesswoman will make Local 506 as great as Glenn did for the last several years."

  • Owner Glenn Boothe talks about why it's time for him to part with the Chapel Hill institution

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