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This article was originally published on Oct. 20, 2014.
By Oliver Lazenby
The Bellingham Business Journal
Hollie Huthman assesses risk, and decides whether or not to issue loans as a consumer loan underwriter at Whatcom Educational Credit Union.
At the end of the day, the 33-year-old swaps her WECU shirt for a hoodie and begins her second job of booking shows, pouring drinks and managing The Shakedown, a bar and music venue on State Street which she founded and co-owns with Marty Watson.
“I’m really busy, but I compare it to having a kid. I imagine that having a full-time job and having a kid is similar to starting a business and having a full-time job,” Huthman said. “I’d imagine that working full-time and having a kid may be more difficult.”
Running a venue is tough. Between the staff who need to be paid during a concert–bartenders, security, a sound technician–and the music and lighting equipment, there’s a lot of overhead. That’s one reason music venues come and go frequently in Bellingham. The 3B, The Factory, The Nightlight Lounge, The Old Foundry, and many others have closed in the last 10 years.
But the three-and-a-half-year-old Shakedown is expanding. Huthman, with her day job at the credit union, brings something to the venue that not all bar owners have–the ability to assess risk and manage money.
The current space is a 130-person capacity room with circular leather booths lining one wall and a bar beneath a bare brick wall on the opposing side. They have about three concerts a week, mostly rock shows. It’s capacity makes it a medium-sized venue, Huthman said.
In August, Huthman and Watson signed a lease on the space next door to The Shakedown. They’ll be punching a doorway through the wall and creating a side bar and pinball lounge called The Racket, which they hope to open in November. It will be a quiet place to escape to during a concert. A lounge with 18 pinball tables on the second floor will make The Racket a pinball destination, Huthman said.
“The nice thing about a side bar is if you’re into the first and last band but not the band in between, you can get out of the noise and talk to the date you brought with you,” Huthman said.
A lot of venues have side bars, or something similar, Huthman said. The Crocodile (formerly The Crocodile Cafe) and Neumos in Seattle both have them.
Opening the side bar was part of Huthman and Watson’s original plan for The Shakedown, but Huthman said she didn’t expect to get the opportunity so soon.
Brent Cole, editor of What’s Up! Magazine, which covers music in Bellingham, called The Shakedown vital the local music scene. It gives local bands a place to play, but it’s also brought some impressive bands to town, he said.
Earth, a Seattle band that had its newest album reviewed in the New York Times, has played at The Shakedown three times.
“Bands like to play The Shakedown,” Cole said. “That’s the kind of place Shakedown is. Bands will potentially take less money to play at Hollie’s bar.”
The venue has earned a good reputation among bands and agents, Huthman said. She tries to pay and treat bands well.
Huthman mostly hires people who are in bands, because they understand what it’s like to be in a touring band.
“Sometimes bands might not make enough money to even cover gas while on tour,” Huthman said. “We can at least give them a good experience.”
Cole has known Huthman for 14 years, and he said he begged her to open a music venue. He thought she had the perfect combination of talents to run a venue successfully, he said.
“She’s smart, grounded, incredibly passionate, she has incredible taste in music. She’s perfect,” he said. “Hollie is an incredibly stable person and there are a lot of bar owners who are not.”
The 3B, a legendary Bellingham venue that closed in 2005, is Huthman’s inspiration for The Shakedown. When she turned 21, she started going to shows at The 3B and fell in love with the venue’s atmosphere and community. Cole said Slim Dunlap, guitarist for The Replacements, called it the best bar he’s ever played.
Since The 3B closed, both Cole and Huthman described the Bellignham music scene as going in ebbs and flows. Currently, The Shakedown, along with Bellingham’s other venues, are hosting a lot of shows, Huthman said.
“People got out of the habit of going to see live music as their first choice of entertainment,” she said. “With all the venues in town that are putting on great shows, going to see live music is starting to be in people’s routines again.”
Huthman started The Shakedown because she loves live music. Live music is her job now, but it’s still her passion.
“I love going to shows. It’s the best thing in the world,” she said. “The Shakedown is my first business and my first priority is making sure it survives. It’s also a labor of love and so at this point there’s so much more that motivates me beyond money. Yet, I’d really like to eventually be able to rely on it alone to make a living.”