Hermann’s Jazz Club backers fear changes will hurt purchase campaign

The Jazz on View Society says its campaign to purchase Hermann’s Jazz Club has been hurt by a falling-out between management and nightclub staff.

Last month the nightclub’s former manager, who’d worked there for 15 years, resigned. As well, five staffers — some of them longtime employees — either resigned or were laid off. All were supporters of the Jazz on View Society.

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“Frankly, the situation now is distressing. Most of the amazing staff have either left or been forced to leave,” wrote Bill Turner, president of the Jazz on View Society, in a message to supporters.

“These circumstances are affecting our campaign, since we are not able to easily use the club as a venue to get the message out or even do media interviews on site,” he wrote.

Jazz on View is a Victoria community group that signed an option to purchase the building containing Hermann’s Jazz Club for $3 million. The contract stipulates these funds must be raised by Oct. 31.

Hermann’s Jazz Club co-owner Ingrid Reid acknowledged the departure of staff. But she said it’s merely part of a revamp of club operations.

“It’s just business as usual. We can’t please everyone … . We’re just progressing and tightening things up,” she said.

In recent weeks, two servers at Hermann’s were laid off. This was immediately followed by the resignations of the manager and three other staffers.

Reid said the two servers were dismissed partly because they didn’t “immediately comply” with a managerial directive. As well, business slows at the club during the summer.

“They were upset by this. And then a couple [of other employees] left of their own accord,” she said.

Reid says she and a new manager have made improvements to Hermann’s. These include making operations more efficient, altering the menu and updating the decor. The club’s red walls have been repainted brown, and a memorabilia collection has been removed.

She said there are plans to open one of the building’s upstairs rooms — most recently a former Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club — as an additional music venue.

Reid said the option-to-purchase agreement with Jazz on View will be honoured if the terms are met. However, changes were needed to make Hermann’s Jazz Club a viable business.

“The society has their opportunity. But in the meantime, that doesn’t mean we can sit back and wait. [The club] really needed something, and we still have to pay the bills,” she said.

Reid and her brothers inherited the two-storey View Street brick building that houses Hermann’s Jazz Club from their father, Hermann Nieweler. He died in 2015 at the age of 79.

A landmark venue in this city — renowned for its red walls decorated with Nieweler’s collection of instruments and posters — Hermann’s Jazz Club is the longest continuously running jazz club in Canada.

Nichola Walkden is the club’s former manager and Jazz on View’s current secretary. She said she resigned last month “under duress” because her position was being eroded and she wasn’t being offered shifts.

Walkden said Jazz on View can no longer host weekly information meetings at Hermann’s Jazz Club to solicit pledges and other support.

She can no longer give potential supporters tours of building’s upstairs rooms. As well, posters and brochures containing information on Jazz on View have been removed, she said.

In addition, rumours surrounding the layoffs and resignations — as well as changes to the club’s trademark decor — are causing confusion among existing and potential supporters of Jazz on View, Walkden said.

“Now we’ve got this muddiness. It’s under new management.”

Jazz on View, which aims to run Hermann’s Jazz Club as a non-profit enterprise, recently started a GoFundMe crowd-sourcing campaign with a goal of raising $30,000.

Another $300,000 has been pledged by potential lenders, as well as more than $100,000 in pledged donations, Turner said. (Pledges are being made via the Jazz on View Society’s website.)

Turner said while recent developments at Hermann’s Jazz Club make it “very hard for the campaign,” the society will persevere.

“We are committed to moving forward with the option [to purchase] that we have. We just need the community support to put the deal together.”

achamberlain@timescolonist.com

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