Last year, 305 South—the large venue just outside of downtown Durham at the corner of East Pettigrew and Dillard streets—hosted the two biggest shows of Troika Music Festival: On Friday night, The Mountain Goats and Man Man led a six-band bill before the rock picked up Saturday with an eight-hour, 17-band slate topped by New York's Asobi Seksu. The year before, 305 South opened its big garage doors for business on the final day of Troika, hosting 11 bands in a memorable grand finale. The upswing of Troika, it seemed, was in step with that of 305 South, the biggest and most multifunctional music venue in Durham.
This year, though, Troika Music Festival advances without 305 South. Last Saturday, the club auctioned the bulk of its furniture—vintage couches, chairs, curiosities and tables—that served as seating on its concrete floor. Since June, 305 South has canceled all of its concerts due to a city order requiring owners James and Michelle Lee to upgrade the building they lease into an "assembly space." The 4,300-square-foot space would be required to add three urinals and five toilets and increased handicapped access. Lee says those plans would have consumed 1,300 to 1,400 square feet of the building, which also houses the Anti-Mall, a set of shops including vintage clothing boutique The Electric Blender run by Michelle. The modifications didn't make sense for Lee, and—with the club inactive—the lower income meant they didn't have funds to secure a new two-year lease. Saturday's auction and another one planned for next month will either save the club and the Electric Blender or simply liquidate their stock before closing.
James Lee says he's being penalized for taking a space no one cared about in a portion of town few cared about and making it more than anyone imagined. Essentially, Lee believes he was faulted for trying to do too much with a building that was previously dead space. 305 South had become a hotspot for local record release shows, though Lee admits that he'd never been able to afford to book the sort of national bands 305 South could accommodate. Before the city order, though, things were paying off, he says: He'd planned to move his recording studio into the open space behind the stage and, ultimately, begin producing live DVDs for bands playing the 305 South stage.
"I came into that space, and there were bums sleeping on the loading dock and crack addicts asking me for things all of the time. We've had all the windows broken out, but we pioneered that end of town," says Lee, who did something similar when the Electric Blender opened its doors on a then-sparsely populated portion of Broad Street that now claims Broad Street Café and Watts Grocery. "Still, for us to have been waving our 'Durham Love Yourself' and 'Durham Rocks' flags all these years ... it's frustrating. I think Durham is going to lose something more than us losing something. Durham has to chose the institutions it wants to support."