June 20, 2008 in Business

Last year-round comedy club now closed down

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Also today

“ Airway Heights gym being planned by Global Fitness

On the Web:

Updates on development, real estate and retail at s-r.com/blogs/dirt

The punch line of the last act at the Brickwall Comedy Club is no laughing matter. The club, Spokane’s sole year-round standup venue, closed its doors last week after succumbing to financial woes.

“We knew we’d been having problems for a long time,” said owner Chris Warren, 50. “Revenue has been down and costs have been skyrocketing.”

“We simply reached a point where we were bleeding and ran out of blood,” Warren said.

The club, in its fourth year as a restaurant and bar, drew a mix of regional and national comedians to its location at Division Street and East Mission Avenue. It had eight part-time workers when it closed June 10, Warren said.

The shutdown angered some performers, who told a local TV station they had been paid half in cash and half in checks that bounced. That was no secret, local comedians said.

“They act like they’re surprised, but it’s no damn surprise,” said Don Parkins, who runs competing Uncle D’s Comedy Underground.

Warren acknowledged payments had been late but said he hadn’t taken a paycheck in months to try to pay comics and workers.

Warren in March sought Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, claiming debts of $100,000 to $500,000, in an effort to keep his property and pay debts over time.

But the IRS asked for the case to be dismissed, alleging Warren owed nearly $86,000 in unpaid federal taxes and hadn’t filed individual tax returns or employee withholding returns for years.

Warren said the IRS used “arbitrary” numbers, and that he and the business owe closer to $20,000. A federal bankruptcy judge agreed to throw out the case the day after the business closed.

When Spokane-based comedian Jay Wendell Walker was waiting for a heart transplant, Warren hosted a benefit roast that netted about $1,000, Walker said. He called the benefit, one of several Warren had organized, “the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever gone through in my entire life.”

“We all knew that Chris was struggling, that he was having a tough time,” Walker said. “They would have to be either blind or stupid not to know that the doors were going to close. … He probably hung on longer than he should have.”

With the closure, there is no consistent venue in Spokane for traveling or local comics. Uncle D’s doesn’t operate in the summer.

But local comedy patrons may have the last laugh: Walker said he’s negotiating with the owners of the Brickwall building to open a comedy club bearing his name this fall.

Airway Heights gym planned

Spokane-based Global Fitness plans to build a large exercise club in Airway Heights on land it recently purchased.

The 50,000-square-foot to 60,000-square-foot gym, to be located on South Garfield Road across from Zak Designs, would be the fifth for Global Fitness. M-R Fitness Inc. would like to start construction early next year, and open the facility by October 2009, said Michael Lee, general manager. The corporation hasn’t lined up financing, he said.

It would be the first full-service gym in the West Plains city, Lee claims. It would feature a daycare, two pools and a hot tub, several basketball floors and group fitness, weights and spinning rooms, he said.

Lee expects the club would employ 15 to 20 full-time and 30 to 40 part-time.

He said the corporation purchased the assets of previous gym operator Global Fitness Inc., which the state Department of Revenue claims still owes more than $9,000 in delinquent taxes. The company is on a payment plan, he said.

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