End of an era; HiFi Club latest Calgary business to close during COVID
After 15 years in Calgary, the popular HiFi Club has closed. (Courtesy HiFi Club)
CALGARY -- After 15 years in operation, the HiFi Club — one of Calgary's longest serving institutions of dancing, partying and all around good times — has closed.
An announcement posted to social media says the closure is a result of being shut down since March because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and being unable to renegotiate lease terms with the building's owner.
"I'm not trying to vilify them because they're also in an awkward position, they were pretty accommodating for a while," said Pete Emes, one of the club's founders and co-owners.
"But the thing is, the business model here is a pretty simple one. If we can't have people through the club, congregating without distancing … we're a small club so the margins are pretty thin as it is. None of us were going to retire here and when you're cutting a thin margin you can go pretty quickly from making money to losing money and there was just no way for us to operate and not lose money.
"Expenses don't stop when the business shuts."
HiFi Club was started in 2005 in a small space in the Beltline on 10th Avenue S.W. by Emes and Mike Grimes, who make up Smalltown DJs, along with friend and fellow DJ, Graham Furse.
"(Graham) was managing one of the bars at the (University of Calgary) … Mike and I were (DJing) at the Night Gallery and things were starting to go a little downhill over there, so we were like, 'Geez, we have to either move our night to a new place or open our own spot,'" said Emes.
"We made the right choice, it was busy right off the bat."
Emes and Grimes are also part of the ownership group at Home and Away and Commonwealth.
One of the big reasons for the success of HiFi, figures Emes, is the fact the club was created and run by DJs, for DJs. They basically put on shows and events they would want to go to.
"We've had people tell us this for years, especially the artists that come through, they recognize that it's operated by artists, by DJs, and we put emphasis on those elements of the club. We're celebrating music, that's our number one priority, and you don't usually find that," said Emes.
"It's about the fact that we love this music and we love presenting it in the right way, with proper sound, proper visuals, proper art installations and it creates a whole vibe. We learned it over the years from coming up and visiting various spots where it was done right and we kind of applied that."
HiFi booked some big-name artists over the years, some before they were well known.
"Things like Black Francis from the Pixies playing and doing Kid Cudi's first show in Canada," said Emes.
"We did Calvin Harris' first show on his first international DJ tour … there's just so many memories like that. Routinely, shows that we would do here would go on to play the Palace or Mac Hall or even arena shows.
"There's also memories like, Charles Barkley came here and hung out for a whole night, he was buying people drinks. Coldplay came after their Saddledome show and were on the dance floor the whole night, and were super cool. George Wendt from Cheers came for a rock show and was posted up at the bar buying drinks. There's so many stories flooding back."
News of the closure prompted an outpouring of support on social media, with hundreds commenting how saddened they were and sharing their own stories.
"It's amazing and that's why we did it, we would bring shows that we knew weren't going to break even, it was a labour of love," said Emes.
And reopening HiFi at some point in the future isn’t out of the question.
"I'm not going to say no," said Emes. "There's no timeframe right now for what we do. We just feel like the question marks are too great right now for when we can reopen and operate at a regular capacity. We're definitely thinking something is going to be possible but we're also eternal optimists.
"This is what we do and we've always loved it. Something could come back."
Top 10 shows at HiFi Club as chosen by Pete Emes:
- Jamie xx
- The Very Best
- A Tribe Called Red
- Kid Cudi
- Calvin Harris
- Diplo and CSS
- Black Francis of the Pixies
- Magnolia Electric Company
- Skrillex with 12th Planet and Dillon Francis
- Justin Martin