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Blue on Blu: Owner blames Manchester club's close on evolution of Elm Street nightlife.

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 18. 2013 6:25PM
The corner of Elm and Lowell streets was once a great spot for a nightclub, but the owner of the defunct Blu, which replaced the Black Brimmer in September, said her business had trouble drawing crowds away from newer clubs in the Elm Street area to the south, near Verizon Wireless Arena. (UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER - When Candace Tormey purchased the Black Brimmer in November 2011, the downtown nightclub and live music venue seemed like a good investment. The club on the corner of Elm and Lowell streets was a mainstay of downtown Manchester for years.

But the first six months did not go well, and in June she brought in Peter Jennings, a successful restaurateur and owner of Jokers Sports Bar & Bistro on South Willow Street and Baked, a downtown cafe and bakery. The Brimmer closed during the summer for renovations and reopened in September as Blu, a night club bar and grill.

The new concept was designed to retain the live music the club had been known for, while creating a more upscale environment. It didn't catch on, and in late January Tormey decided to cut her losses.

"Basically, we just were not bringing in the income in order to pay everything that needed to be paid," she said. "Bands are very expensive. The output was a lot more than what the input was. That was the bottom line."

Tormey predicts that the well-trafficked corner location would not stay vacant for long. "There will be something going in there," she said. "It's got a full kitchen, so I can't imagine someone going in there and changing it into something else altogether. It's going to be a restaurant, bar or nightclub. There are several interested parties."

The nightclub's location - which once worked in its favor - may now be part of the problem, according to both Tormey and Jennings. Clubs like Social 24 and Drynk are drawing the action further south on Elm Street, near the Verizon Wireless Arena, which puts clubs to the north on Elm Street at a disadvantage, Jennings said.

"All those clubs in that area, which are basically across the street from each other, own the market for that genre of client," Jennings said.

Tormey agreed. "I think when the Brimmer closed in June (of 2012), Social 24 opened the week prior," she said. "So a lot of the folks who were used to coming to the Black Brimmer found other places to go. Trying to get that group back proved to be a little difficult. If folks want to go out and dance, they are down by the Verizon Center now, not up in this area."

The large size of the space, the continued downturn in the economy, and some confusion in the market about the nightclub's brand were also problems.

"Our room is so large that if you put 25 to 30 people in there, people think there's nothing happening, turn around and walk out," Tormey said. "I guess people thought we were trying to be a little too much like Boston. I personally didn't see it that way, but others did. We had a lot of comments about attire - what they could wear and that sort of thing - even though we were casual."

Jennings and Tormey parted company in November and are now in a dispute about money owed on the contract for Jennings and his team. "Non-payment was not an issue until after we parted ways," said Tormey, while Jennings said he may contest that claim in court.

While he agreed with Tormey on location and competition as key factors in the nightclub's demise, he said the venture was also undercapitalized and in need of more experienced management.

"It is now in an awkward location because of how Elm Street has evolved," he said. "But when you lack experience and you lack finances, it's pretty hard to run a business and keep it open. You have to be able to substantially cover costs for the first three years, and they did not have the liquid assets."

Jennings said a national restaurant chain may be interested in the location.

Tormey, a UNH graduate who spent most of her career as a teacher in Virginia, said she is looking to return south, but not without bittersweet memories of her two-year stint in the nightclub business. The Brimmer and its successor had a loyal clientele, she said. It was just not large enough.

"I know when we closed, a lot of people were not happy."

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