an open letter to the owners of Baltimore House

Dear Grant and Jimmy

I have read your recent “fireside chats” on your blog and, while I can understand your being upset over the relatively blase response to Seance Thursdays, your public response has definitely run the risk of alienating the very people you want to attend your place of business.  I am writing this because I truly love the Baltimore House and want you guys to succeed.  You may recall I was your first customer and interviewed in the Spec about your place the very day it opened.  I have since organized tweetups, brought people both from within and outside of the city to your establishment and am there for dinner on a regular basis.

As a paying customer and a fan, it pained me to read Grant’s vehement “fireside chat

I quite enjoyed Seance on Thursdays, however was more than open with the fact that a) it was a work night and b) it coincided with my other job, so I would be unable to attend.  However I also know that the music was quite experimental and, by even my tastes, an acquired taste so could appreciate that it would be a hard sell for a city that is just coming to terms with Dubstep as a mainstream music form.

I think my main concern is the overall negative tone of Grant’s initial posting is that it honestly comes across as “We tried to educate you by giving you what we know to be cool, but when you didn’t come in droves it became obvious that you are ignorant.”  Having talked to Grant and Jimmy and enjoyed the hospitality of their establishment, I know this is not the case, however the tone of the May 25, 2012 fireside chat comes across in this manner.

Jimmy’s response on June 1st confirms what I know about the two gentlemen who have invested in the City of Hamilton, but also reflects the kind of response that they have received due to the power of social media.  I know as a fact that this posting has cost the Baltimore House the business of a number of long-term customers.

When Grant made comments like “In our short time we’ve come a long way and learned a lot about not only our vision but what it takes to make that vision work within a promising, albeit, temperamental city; a city that in and of itself is still really only in it’s cultural infancy.”  He ignores the fact that people have been working in this city for DECADES to build things up culturally and that he is, in essence, discounting and dismissing the very people who have worked hard in the city of Hamilton to lay the foundation for places like the Baltimore House to exist.  These people are also the target demographic you seem to be interested in pursuing.

Grant then continues “Over the past few years as I thought more and more about The Baltimore House I got increasingly excited because, at the same time, I was watching a true “scene” develop in places like Brooklyn that was precisely what I wanted for Thursday nights in Hamilton.”  He misses the very point within his own writing – that the scenes that developed in places like Brooklyn, Austin, Portland and Chapel Hill, NC developed over a period of at least a few years.  Believe me, not all bars/clubs have instant success with theme nights, particularly when a theme is an admitted “we could make Thursday a popular night to come out and hear new, experimental electronic music and even, possibly, dance to it…” acquired taste.

Grant then proceeds to (to coin a word used in his fireside chat) “piss” on the scene with the following sentence “This was something I did because in other markets as close as Toronto, I had seen this kind of publicity often prove to be a golden ticket. But again: this was Hamilton not Toronto and the ticket here was piss coloured not golden.”  Ironically, he says this in a paragraph after stating:  “One of the hardest lessons Hamilton has personally taught me is that it isn’t Brooklyn. It isn’t London. And it isn’t even Toronto. And despite what I want to believe, and what I DO believe for the future of the city, the basic fact remains: Hamilton is Hamilton.

I’m surprised that as a McMaster student and resident of the city for the apparent duration of his degree, Grant would find this surprising and a recent revelation…Hamilton IS indeed Hamilton – it has a mere fraction of the population of the cities he mentions and is only beginning to rebuild the inner city after years of neglect.

Grant and Jimmy have stated on several occasions and in many formats that they want Baltimore House to be a “community in and of ourselves; to be a lifestyle and most importantly to work on being an upstanding, positive and safe place- a place where we would feel happy and comfortable being even if we didn’t own and work there. Transparency, honesty, open communication and respect have were among the most important pillars that the business was originally built upon..”  Well I guess they have discovered that the community has spoken and, in essence, voted with their presence and pocket books. 

I’m indeed sad that something Grant believed in and loved did not attract a wider audience, however the necessities of operating a business means you also must acquiesce to the folks who are paying your bills.  However responding in a angst-ridden outburst, similar to the way the “bros” you malign in your blog, does not help garner support for either Seance or your business.  How about engaging the folks who did attend, even if only for an hour and ask them what worked for them and what didn’t work?

Yes Seance was cool, yes Seance was definitely an acquired taste, and no, it didn’t work out.  It’s a shame, but not unheard of in the industry, and lashing out at your prospective audience/clientele is not the cure.  As a musician, it hurts me when my music that I think is really great and represents me and my voice falls on an uninterested audience, however I understand that it is due to differing tastes.  I merely take it as a lesson learned and regroup for the next round.

I look forward in seeing what the next round for Thursday nights at Baltimore House brings!


13 thoughts on “an open letter to the owners of Baltimore House

  1. Hey folks, if you’re going to comment here about the people I’ve named in particular, please do NOT post anonymously and make your comments constructive and avoid personal attacks. I’m trying to keep things civil and fair here and have posted openly using my name and face. If you aren’t going to stand behind the statements you make, I’m not going to post them here.

    • my name is james thomas. instead of blogging about bad business moves, why not just converse with them about this mistake in their establishment as you are, as well as myself, a regular customer. spreading this over the internet is bound to do even more damage since i, and i’m sure many others, may not have even seen said blog but did see yours – ripping them apart. c’mon man!

      • Hi James,

        I’m sorry to feel you think I’m “ripping them apart,” however I wrote this to engage them as they had blocked off comments on Grant’s “Fireside Chat”. I’m simply stating that engaging the “community” they are trying to build is better than raging and railing against it. No more, no less.

        I came across the blog posting after a facebook friend pointed it out to me and there were well over 56 angry (and I mean ANGRY) replies to Grant’s initial posting and Jimmy’s June 1st response. The part that angered most people is that commenting was disabled for both postings and neither Grant nor Jimmy seemed even remotely interested in engaging their readership in any discussion.

        As to my blog being more evident than the original, that’s sad to hear as I am just a lone voice in the wilderness that is Hamilton and Baltimore is an up and coming business who is doing good on the King William strip. I even ended my posting with a positive look towards the future.

        Am I “ripping” Baltimore House apart? No. (Heck, I’ve had promotional photo shoots done there and am working with Max to schedule my CD release party there) Am I ripping how they handled the situation and resulting backlash apart? Yes! It could have been handled far better in my opinion.

      • I realize the outcome of this post was already big. I just wish you had brought it to them personally rather than fuel the fires on the inter web. And yes grant ripped himself apart with his comments but why repeat a really stupid mistake?

  2. Seance sounds like something that could work here, although you can’t judge by only a few weeks, or even a few months. Word of mouth needs time to spread, and there are a very many people who have never even heard of Baltimore House. For something as niche as this you need time to promote and build up clientele – and even Skinny Puppy only draw a couple thousand people in major centres.

    I helped promote a Kode9 show in the late 90s at the Casbah – i think there were 15 people. Some things never change!

    Gord Leverton

  3. Good share Chris Farias on Facebook. Anyone who does business in Hamilton is certainly not immune to frustration. Probably the best advise I absorbed over the past decade came from Bob Young when he purchased the Ticats. In an interview he said something like this… “Don’t blame the fans for not coming or for stopping to come. It’s not their fault. If it was a great overall experience then we probably wouldn’t have these problems. We need to figure out what we are doing wrong, listen to the people and fix it. Once we fix it then we have to win them back, but there’s no guarantees…” You can’t force people to like you or “your” cool things. But it doesn’t mean that you stop trying to do something cool or new. If you are honest about it then just maybe it will catch on and you don’t need to do anymore of the selling! It just becomes!! P.S. I do think Baltimore is cool… so good luck boys!

  4. “a city that in and of itself is still really only in it’s cultural infancy. Like our bar, arts and culture are, in Hamilton, also- new here.”

    Women’s Arts Association of Hamilton – 1894
    Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts – 1897
    AGH – 1914
    Hamilton Players Guild – 1929
    Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra – 1949
    Dundas Valley School of Art – 1964
    Hamilton Arts Council – 1969
    Theatre Aquarius – 1973
    Hamilton Artists Inc.1975
    McMaster Museum of Art – opened to public 1994
    Workers Arts & Heritage Centre – 1995

    Just to name a few.

    I won’t bother mentioning all the artistic growth and gallery foundations post 1995 or the art crawl, except to say that the art crawl didn’t create galleries, the galleries and artist allowed for an art crawl to evolve.

  5. Hey Myke,

    Interesting article. It always upsets me a little to hear about things like this. As a proud Hamiltonian now living in London, UK it pains me to see people seemingly tear apart something that downtown Hamilton has needed for years: an artistic community that can be seen easily by all.

    It’s true Hamilton will never be London and that’s a good thing. Hamilton is a unique place unlike any other. I honestly get choked up a little when I see these formerly boarded up buildings being used for an artistic and business purpose.

    However I once had a very good friend and artist say to me, “being an artist is as simple as making your art. Everything else is secondary”. An artistic endeavour, like building a community takes time.

    As far as running a business goes: I’ve never been very good at that. A thing you must remember about Hamilton especially when you’re talking about an event that sounds avant-garde is that Hamilton is not a very big market and artists usually have no money.

    If he is looking for Brooklyn or London, dare I say you may be in the wrong place. London is always happy to have more people but I fear he may find himself sitting back and missing some of the things that frustrated him about our beloved city.

    Sincerely yours,

    CA Smith

    • Thanks for reading CA.

      My initial reading of the original blog pained me, however I waited a few days to digest and thing before penning my response. Over 10 years ago, I chose to live in Hamilton (over Toronto, Durham, NC and Austin) because I loved the city, it’s people and vibe and am thankful that it is unique in it’s own right.

      The recent focus on the inner city and creative reuse of buildings gives me pride and hope for the city. And I agree that anything worth while doing takes time – including building a community or something as simple as a night club theme night. Particularly noting that said theme night will automatically have a small built in audience and when you are drawing from a small pool of people to begin with…

      Enjoy London, Mr. Smith! I am enjoying your new vinyl immensely!

  6. Pingback: mykesworld

  7. Pity that the owners of BH have stumbled in a number of ways from the get-go, including inattentive service, delayed liquor licence, limited menu, and hijacking music at privately booked functions. We were so hopeful for this venue: loved the aesthetic, promoted it in our circles, were grateful for its arrival in our James North neighborhood…. hopefully the owners figure things out soon, because Hamilton is better for BH.

    • Hi Ron and Rochelle,

      Please note my follow up blog posting here:

      The folks of Baltimore House have gone the extra mile in setting things straight and handling the fallout subsequent to the initial comments. I went last night and talked to Max and Jimmy and things have truly been put behind us. Grant also was on local radio to set things right and also try to put some humour to the situation. Baltimore House is a great business that is providing a great service to a neighbourhood which is on the cusp of rebirth.

      BTW, they can hardly be delayed due to the delayed liquor license. The City of Hamilton is notoriously bad in arranging things like inspections and occupancy licenses, which leads to inevitable delays for things like business and liquor licensing (just ask other businesses such as Earth to Table, The Harbour Diner and The Cannon Coffee Company). The limited menu, I suspect, is by design as they are aiming to be a coffee house and lounge…I wouldn’t say it’s a “stumbling block” when there are many other establishments where you can go and get a lovely meal in the area…I go to Baltimore House for good coffee, good atmosphere and interesting adult beverages for my friends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s