Copper Owl's club owner having a hoot

Renee Crawford is the owner-operator of Victoria’s busiest new club, the Copper Owl. To learn more about the copper-roofed venue, located beside Paul’s Motor Inn at 1900 Douglas St., visit copperowl.ca.

What began as a simple inquiry has become an all-consuming business for Renee Crawford.

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Life for the Alberta native moved quickly back in February, when she began inquiring about the possibility of hosting events at 1900 Douglas St., the lounge that formerly housed the Castle Video Bar.

Castle had closed abruptly in January, which surprised Crawford. The 33-year-old Lethbridge native enjoyed seeing events at the quirky venue with the copper-panelled roof, and was interested in using it for future events hosted by the fifty fifty arts collective, which she oversaw as a director.

“The next thing I knew, [Castle] had closed down,” Crawford said.

Crawford was surprised to learn that no one had stepped forward with a plan to reopen the arts-friendly venue directly next door to Paul’s Motor Inn. “I was amazed by that. It was this amazing space that was going to be sitting empty.”

Next thing she knew, Crawford was having meetings about becoming its primary operator. She was asked by the building’s landlord to put together a business proposal. In mid-February, a week or two after she first inquired about the space, her offer to take over was submitted. By the end of March, the venue was hers, complete with a three-year lease and a new name: the Copper Owl.

“It was about a three-week time period from when I went in and negotiated with them to when we opened the doors,” she said, still somewhat surprised by the turn of events.

Crawford and her boyfriend, musician Jzero Schuurman, who handles most of the bookings, officially opened the club March 8 with a lineup that included the Chantrelles and Le Rat. In the months since, the Copper Owl (which has a capacity of 120) has moved swiftly from baby steps to an all-out sprint. Over the summer, it became one of the busiest clubs in the city, with 24 shows in July.

The club has another 21 scheduled for August, representing styles too many to mention. “Our musical genres are really diverse,” Crawford said. “We’ve had everything from folk singer-songwriter stuff to improvised jazz and metal.”

She has a background that is well-suited to her profession. Crawford has worked locally for everyone from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria to the annual Integrate Arts Festival and the fifty fifty arts collective.

She is too busy nowadays to do much of anything that isn’t Copper Owl-related, but it is her wish that Victoria will continue to be “a cultural destination.”

Crawford studied interior design at Montreal’s International Academy of Design and Technology, and once managed a restaurant in Calgary. Still, her myriad experiences did not prepare her for the all-encompassing nature of life at the Copper Owl.

She and Schuurman have been consistently busy since June (“We haven’t had many days off,” she sighed), but it feels like their work is paying off.

She laughs at her current lot in life, and the fact she owns a club still catches her off-guard on occasion. “It kind of fell into my lap, in a way,” she said. “I pursued it, and wanted to know more about it. But it wasn’t like I had to search and search.”

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Lethbridge, Alta., but I grew up for most of my younger years in Kelowna.

At which point did you know Kelowna was not for you in the long term?

I moved around a lot. I left Kelowna for Vancouver right after high school, and lived there for about five years. Then I moved to Montreal, where I lived for five years. I went back to Kelowna for a while, and then lived in Alberta for a couple of years.

When did you arrive in Victoria and what brought you here?

I came here in 2008. I was visiting a friend and fell in love with the city. I had wanted to move to Victoria years before, but I didn’t really know anybody. I felt like it was a place where I needed to know some people.

What is your favourite thing about Victoria?

To me, it’s the perfect-sized city and there’s always stuff going on. But the ocean and the proximity to the ocean is such a nice, driving force. You can feel super-stressed out and go by the ocean and feel like there’s possibility. That helps my creativity and energy.

What is your greatest accomplishment as a person?

I really enjoy creating a space where community can grow. When I was in Kelowna, I founded with a friend of mine an artist-run art gallery and music venue. At the time, Kelowna didn’t have any space for like-minded, creative people to get together. That’s what I’m hoping the Copper Owl can be as well.

And as a professional?

The period of time from signing a lease to opening [the Copper Owl] to getting it to a point where it is functioning, that has been a pretty big challenge for me.

First album you purchased?

Nirvana’s albums were the first time I really cared about music. I was blown away by the fact this band was somewhat mainstream but was talking about things that nobody else was talking about. I played Bleach really loud.

Favourite album?

Viva Lost Blues by Palace. That was a pretty life-changing album for me.

First concert you attended?

My dad took me to the Beach Boys when I was five. I think John Stamos was in the band then.

Favourite concert you attended?

I saw the Make-Up and Blonde Redhead together at the [now-defunct Vancouver club] Starfish Room in 1999. I got in there with fake ID.

If you had one motto, or rule to abide by, what would it be?

Lately, it has probably been “Keep calm and carry on.”

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