The owners of the Pink Garter Theatre and The Rose, and their landlord, are exploring options for keeping the popular nightlife venue on Broadway alive.
Operator Dom Gaglaridi said that “it’s been difficult to make the finances work.”
So when the initial eight-year lease ran out he decided against going with the first of three five-year renewals.
Instead the Garter and the bar are now on a lease that runs through March 2021 so he and his partners can, in his words, assess the business and the space at 50 W. Broadway.
“Our goal is to keep it as a music venue slash multi-use center,” he said. “We will continue to keep doing what we’re doing while exploring other options for a shift that can help it remain what it is.”
That includes “producing the best concerts we can bring though the area,” he said, and working with other entities, like Teton County Library and its story slams, and individual performers, like Andrew Munz, who has a one-man comedy show there this weekend (see Scene page 4).
Originally, Gagliardi said, “we wanted a long-term thing so we could have control of the theater and do what we wanted to do with it. We were assuming we could bring in the amount of income to cover 13,500 square feet of space.”
But “it’s just been daunting to earn enough income to cover all that square footage,” he said. “We couldn’t sign on to a five-year lease.”
The building’s owner, Dudley Miller, of Mexico, Missouri, is exploring options via a sign on the building advertising the 13,500 square feet of space “for lease.”
The Garter and the Rose occupy about 50% of the building, he said, “but that half is really cheap rent compared to other parts of the building.” He is looking to “bring it up to market rate.”
Miller said he wants the theater to stay because he thinks it’s needed in Jackson, but he is also looking at his bottom line. He has owned the building for more than a dozen years, and up until the past few years, he said, “I put everything that it makes back into the building.
“My hope is that someone will carry on the theater,” Miller said. “We have to look at all options as to what’s best for us profit-wise. The door is open. We’ll find out.
“New ideas usually are good,” he said. “I’m not saying Dom’s are not good. But someone else’s ideas could turn it around possibly. New blood is good in lots of ways. You have different ideas and different approaches.”
Miller likes the mix of businesses in the building, which includes Pinky G’s Pizzeria, and a coffee shop along with the theater and bar.
“It’s all right there,” he said. “It’s good for Jackson. It seems like it draws a younger crowd.”
In Jackson Hole’s creative community the Pink Garter has both sentimental and practical value.
An affordable venue like the Pink Garter is critical, said Munz, a writer, actor and director.
In recent years he has directed Riot Act Inc.’s production of “The Normal Heart” at the Pink Garter, mounted his own “I Can Ski 4 Ever” show there and hosted the LGBTQ Pride Dance Party. His “I Don’t Ski” show starts Friday.
But his first onstage experience at the Pink Garter was in fifth grade with the Missoula Children’s Theatre production of “Alice in Wonderland.”
“It’s where I made my stage debut,” Munz said. “The Pink Garter has a lot of sentimental value to me ... and I think to a lot of people.
“It means a lot to me to be able to evolve in my own hometown and be able to stand on the same stage I started out on.”
And while not knocking the Center for the Arts, he said the performing space there is “very, very out of my price range.” The cost would be more than twice as much per day, which would require him to raise significantly more money in advance or charge much higher ticket prices, he said.
Without the Pink Garter, Munz said, as an artist “I don’t know what I’d do here.
“Ultimately we need an affordable theater space, not only for myself but for other organizations, other individual artists,” Munz said. “For a town that has as much of an arts focus as Jackson, performance spaces are very, very limited. We really need to preserve what we have.”
Gagliardi understands the Pink Garter’s value to people like Munz.
“If that theater went away it would be sad for our nightlife and entertainment,” he said.
“We’re holding onto it through this lease. We’re not giving up on the theater.”
Twenty-plus partners are involved with The Rose Jackson Hole LLC, the entity running the bar and the theater.
“They’ve been very willing and very giving to the community in that they risk their money and their investment to have a music center downtown,” he said. “There’s a limit to that.”
He didn’t want to detail monthly costs but said that between rent, maintenance and insurance “our occupancy is over 25% of the income we bring in.” The industry standard for the restaurant and bar business is “you need to be under 10% for profitability.”
Operating a venue like the Pink Garter is incredibly difficult, especially in a small community. Even when concerts sell out, there are only so many that can be supported by the local population.
So The Rose operates every day to support that, and the Garter hosts all kinds of other events, like the local Realtors’ Christmas party, promo parties, church services and a recent whiskey competition.
So what are the options?
“We’re open to any ideas,” Gagliardi said. “It’s good to get the word out.”
Gagliardi mentioned having a nonprofit or other owner invest money in the theater without “an expectation of a market return on rent.” Or maybe someone will want to buy the building and keep the theater, he said.
The Rose and the Pink Garter could be owned and operated separately.
The liquor license was secured in partnership with the landlord and “will stay with the building,” Gagliardi said.
Miller agreed: “We own the liquor license.”
Miller didn’t rule out the possibility of selling the building but indicated it wasn’t something he needed or wanted to do.
“We’re in the black,” he said.