StateImpact
11:06 am
Mon February 27, 2012

Unlikely Jazz Venue Flourishing in Laconia

While we at StateImpact like to talk about trends and broad-brush movements in business and economics, occasionally it’s helpful to zoom-in and look at individual cases of business success.

For example, this weekend Adam Draphco of the Laconia Daily Sun profiled Pitman’s Freight Room, which is, of all things, a jazz listening-room in the Lakes Region.  The owner, Jonathan Lorentz, has been hosting  live jazz performances there once a week all summer. The building was being used as an antique shop until 2009, when it was renovated  as a function hall.

For those of us who grew up in the Lakes Region, a serious jazz venue seems like a hard sell, especially one that doesn’t feature a bar. But the Freight Room doesn’t isn’t a  typical music venue. It’s low-key and listening centric.

Lorentz’s concept was an experience tailored around the music and the listening experience. There’s no bar – patrons are welcome to bring their own alcoholic beverages – and only recently did he team up with Kevin Halligan of the Village Bakery to offer a limited food menu and soft drinks. Punctuating the focused nature of the experience, Lorentz enforces a strict “listening policy” which forbids the use of cell phones or lap-tops and shushes those who would talk through the performance.

Admission is just $10, and the BYOB policy means that the Freight Room is cheap way to have a nice night out, in an area that doesn’t have much to offer in that area. There are other similar venues around the state — the Starving Artist in Keene, the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry — but nothing in Laconia. In other words, Lorentz has found a niche to fill.

And Draphco reports that things seem to be going well.

Rather than driving paying customers away, the focused experience has had patrons returning in increasing numbers. Attendance increased over the summer and has continued to rise through the winter. He now gets an average of about 100 people each week and occasionally brushes up against his 160 capacity. Meanwhile, musicians are burning up his phone line for gigs, he’s already booked through 2012. Starting in March, he’s adding weekly Monday shows to serve the growing demand.

Lorentz’s prediction that other similar venues could sprout up, making Laconia the new Austin, Texas of New Hampshire, is perhaps a bit premature. But the Freight Room is another addition to the growing cadre of young businesses in and around Laconia’s Main Street area that are capitalizing on localized business models to prosper in tough economic times. They all feature a low-prices, low-expenses paradigm and are tailor-made for their setting.

Very small businesses are not the biggest economic engine in New Hampshire — firms with less than twenty employees make up less than 20% of the state’s economy — but paying attention to the outliers sometimes is important as they can become trend setters. So keep your eye out for Pitman’s Freight Room, or similar listening-rooms to pop up around the state.

Copyright 2012 StateImpact New Hampshire. To see more, visit http://stateimpact.npr.org/new-hampshire/.