Kathy Blackman, owner of the Grog Shop, describes her business. She talks about the founding of the venue, and how her and her two partners set off without a plan. She also mentions that their growth into the music scene was entirely organic. She says that at one point she considered moving away from Cleveland Heights because a new landlord had kicked her out. Finally, she says that she cannot pick a favorite act but she can talk about a fiasco that she will never forget.
Richard Raponi [00:00:03] OK, my name is Richard Raponi, I'm conducting an interview for the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities to document the history of the Grog Shop interviews, interviews being held at the Grog Shop located in the Coventry business district. Could you please state your name and your association with the Grog Shop?
Kathy Blackman [00:00:19] Kathy Blackman. I am the owner of the Grog Shop.
Richard Raponi [00:00:23] As a starting point, could you provide a little background on yourself, including your introduction to the Coventry area?
Kathy Blackman [00:00:29] Background on myself?
Kathy Blackman [00:00:31] I grew up in Cleveland. I went to Heights High School. I went to college in Wisconsin. I have always lived, since I returned from school, actually I started in Shaker Square. But after that, always in the Coventry area, I hung out here my whole life and. I don't know, I now I still live right in the area. I have two kids and they go to Roxboro School or one goes there, one will go there next year. And I'm very involved in the Heights. I love the Heights. I am never leaving.
Richard Raponi [00:01:06] Could you tell me a little bit about the founding of the Grog Shop?
Kathy Blackman [00:01:10] Well, it's a question that's asked a lot, and it's sort of there's no, like, great grand answer to it. It just sort of happened. It wasn't any, like, well-conceived plan. Am I supposed to be looking at you or the microphone?
Richard Raponi [00:01:24] It doesn't matter.
Kathy Blackman [00:01:26] It was basically started when I was working at Club Isabella, with two of who with two guys who were my former partners. And I was a server and one was a manager, one was a bartender. We all lived in the area. There was this space at the corner of Coventry and Mayfield that was called the Jazz Saloon, it had formerly been the saloon shut down, reopened. And we were in there one night. I said, wow, this would be we should open a bar here because there's nobody ever went there. And that's how it happened.
Richard Raponi [00:01:53] Could you say the names of the guys involved?
Kathy Blackman [00:01:57] Yes, Sean Heineman, who and Matt Muggeridge, who is no longer with us, were my partners originally, and it was sort of none of us really knew what we were doing. Matt was sort of the music guy he was. He's the one that sort of we when we started, I don't think we knew exactly what we wanted to do. We were open for lunch. We had food, we had bands occasionally. We did have bands on our first night. But then not every day of the week would we have bands. We did different things. And but then Matt's vision was sort of he loved the punk, punk rock scene and he was very much into music. So he was the one that really sort of pushed us towards the national bands and bringing that stuff in.
Richard Raponi [00:02:36] Okay. What year was this?
Kathy Blackman [00:02:37] It was 1992. September 22nd was our birthday. And then it sort of just evolved into a music club basically, you know, we slowly learn that the food thing was not our thing, although we did for many years have wing nights still. But we mostly, we started predominantly concentrating on music. Matt left maybe two years into it. Matt. Sean left, I want to say five years into it because he. Something four or five years, so it's really been just me for the past 15, 16 years and. You know, we just, I started doing local stuff and then a little bit of national stuff and then sort of as other people died out, so like Larry Collins was booking the Peabody's DownUnder, and when he sort of stopped, he had done some shows at the Grog. So I introduced me to certain agents and, you know, went from there when you could Tavern sort of fizzled. We sort of picked up the slack, you know from there.
Richard Raponi [00:03:42] About what time period... [inaudible]?
Kathy Blackman [00:03:44] Well, I mean, Peabody's was pretty early on that Larry left Peabody's because he stopped doing it. So I mean, I'd say that was like two or because he did some, some of my the better shows I did early in the day, Larry brought to us. And then I have no memory. I'd say it's about two, three years into it, and then the Tavern was really, you know, they were just doing the Mondays. But then other Steve Spellman bought it and started doing music more often, more stuff. And I want to say they closed right before we moved, maybe a year before we moved the Tavern closed. So that was probably ten years ago because we've been here nine years in this location in July, it'll be nine years. So, and we did steal some of their old coolers and stuff. So I do know that they were already gone. And I remember when I moved, I looked at that space. So I don't know how long it was on, but I. Do you remember? I think it was at least ten years ago, maybe eleven. So, you know, so it's those kind of clubs close or change, you know, Peabody's sort of changed what they were doing when they moved out of the flats and when they, when they had different ownership, they sort of got away from some of the music, like more the indie stuff, and got into, I think, sort of the more metal hard stuff. So we sort of picked up that slack and I don't know, just. It just happens. It was very organic, not at all contrived, nobody knew what the hell they were doing. It just sort of happened.
Richard Raponi [00:05:14] And what instigated that move from the old site to the?
Kathy Blackman [00:05:16] Well, we lost our lease, so somebody bought the building. I had always been in talks with the owner of the building, and he passed away suddenly, about buying it from him and expanding at that location. But alas, the new owners did not want me, even though they pretended like they would. So basically, I searched and searched for spots. Initially, I was going I, I talked to this building owner probably first, and he wasn't interested in me. I think Urban Outfitters or something was looking at the space. So they were much more attractive than the Grog Shop. So we were looking at maybe going into a space which was like an appliance store, which is sort of right where there's a what's it called? Something Exchange Clothing there, now. Do you know what I'm talking about? It's like a vintage kind of, it's one of those resale shops. Next is in the basement. It's right at the corner. So, right, basically, we were going to go to that spot, but it's it wasn't the best configuration. And then I was looking at a space in Ohio City, actually, which in retrospect would have been very good because I would have been right there on 25th. It was where City Buddha used to be. So basically where the garage and what's that restaurant? Well they're closed down too, but that corner there that I was going to take those spots and I really wanted to stay in Cleveland Heights, but, you know, I couldn't find a space. And then at the last of the 11th hour, the city of Cleveland Heights was very supportive and gave me some really amazing loans to do and talked my landlord into it. And he you know, I took this whole building and here we are.
Richard Raponi [00:06:57] So what was the business district, I mean, do was that? What was your business during in conjunction with this local government, I mean, did you?
Kathy Blackman [00:07:05] Well, I mean, they were everybody definitely was trying to, they didn't want me to leave. You know, everybody stood behind and but the cons, everybody was great. I mean, really, the city planning department was everybody went out of their way to make sure that we have a space and that it worked out because, you know, I bring a lot of people in the street.
Richard Raponi [00:07:22] And what types of changes have you seen in the Coventry area since?
Kathy Blackman [00:07:26] You know, a lot of them, obviously, it's up and down, up and down. I feel like now we're sort of in a good place. There's been some lows where it's just seemed like there's a lot of empty spaces. And then, you know, we went through the period of the rent got so high, it was like prohibitive for anybody to be here. I think the landlords have realized I mean, we're probably still way higher than most places, but people have got a little more reasonable realizing how hard it is to run a small business. I think we have a lot of retail on the street now. What I'd love to see more, which I think we had back in the day, was a more more diversity in the bars and restaurants. I think we really just have like sports bars and, you know, burger and wing joints. And that's it, you know, would be nice to see a little cross-sections and, you know, nicer restaurants would be great so that it was, we could attract an older crowd now that I'm elderly.
Richard Raponi [00:08:19] And a little outside of that, the Coventry Yard, the space out front? Is that a public space?
Kathy Blackman [00:08:25] It is a public space, yeah.
Richard Raponi [00:08:42] Let's see if I have any questions...
Kathy Blackman [00:08:42] I don't know. Did we forget anything?
Richard Raponi [00:08:44] As far as the type of music they, you said it was more of an organic thing.
Kathy Blackman [00:08:50] Well, that's sort of like, you know, we try to keep it diverse, I still do. As much, to the best of my ability. So it's not just one genre. And obviously original music is our focus. You know, occasionally we'll have a band that's not original, but it's very, very rare and, you know, we just try to keep up with what's popular. I mean, who knows? You know, we went through different waves of like, what is the hot trend? You know, now it's like the electronic DJ thing and hip hop and swing and ska and hardcore and punk, you know, it's a little bit everything, so.
Richard Raponi [00:09:25] The B Side.
Kathy Blackman [00:09:26] Yes.
Richard Raponi [00:09:26] Is that, is that part of.
Kathy Blackman [00:09:27] The B Side is ours as well. When we moved here, I had to take this whole building, which is very large. So it's like the Grog now is probably twice what the Grog was that maybe maybe a little less than twice. But and I sort of was hesitant to just make the basement like an annex of the grog shop, like, you know, original thought. So I just put some pool tables down there and would just be like spillover. But given, like, the scary amount of rent I was paying, I thought I would have to generate additional income to make, make my bills. So we decided to do something completely different, completely independent. And it's actually, you know, it took several years to get off the ground. We struggled through the first two or three years tremendously. But I think we sort of found our home. You know, the initial intent was to have, like, really good cutting edge, you know, electronic DJ kind of stuff, bring in acts and whatnot. We've sort of down I mean, we still do that to some sense, but we also sort of have to play to the neighborhood and have things like mug night and stuff like that, which, you know, it's these are the people in the area that's the people who go out. But so we're not quite as cutting edge as I probably would like to be. But it is what it is you get over that. But yeah, it's, and the B Side does great. And we bring it's, it's been a really nice. It used to be the redheaded stepchild and now it's full-fledged member of the family.
Richard Raponi [00:10:50] And do you have any memorable moments or bands that came through that stick out for you?
Kathy Blackman [00:10:59] Oh, my God, so many that I can't even can't even recall. I mean, I guess another question I get asked a lot, and there have been so many, you know, that I always refer back to the Crash Worship show at the old Grog, which was a disaster. And people are lighting fires, and wouldn't stop playing. And I had to lock the doors because it was 2:45 in the morning and I was having a panic attack. So that was memorable. And, you know, just so many, countless great shows, I can look up here and see a million names, you know, Red Red Meat, Doo Rag, Flaming Lips, Steel Pole Bath Tub, Luna, you know, just right there. I can see. And those are all old Grog. So I'm sure there's been many more here. They just. You know, they all melt together after a while.
Richard Raponi [00:11:49] Thank you very much.
Kathy Blackman [00:11:49] Thank you.
Initial interviews in this series were conducted between 2011 and 2013 at the Coventry Village Reunion in support of Historic Heights App Tours, a Cuyahoga Arts & Culture-funded grant project sponsored by FutureHeights, Cleveland Heights Historical Society, and Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission. Additional interviews were collected in 2018 in coordination with the Cleveland Voices podcast.