Hell freezes over: Improv Inferno to close Sept. 10

ANN ARBOR – The one scenario the improvisers at Ann Arbor's Improv Inferno never considered will become reality next month when the popular downtown entertainment venue unexpectedly closes its doors following its second anniversary celebration Sept. 10.
"It's important that the message out there is not that the Improv Inferno failed," founder and Artistic Director Dan Izzo told BTL this past weekend. "It's simply that our landlord wanted too much rent, and we couldn't keep going at that location."
The building's owner, according to Izzo, is reorganizing all of his properties on Main Street. "I think he's trying to maximize the rent he can get. Looking at the numbers we're doing, I think we're paying the maximum rent for that location. But he doesn't seem to think so, so he's asked us to leave – and we're leaving."
Izzo has operated the Inferno under a management agreement with the building's owner since it opened in September 2004. Notice of the owner's intent was received August 4, with official papers served Aug. 11. "It really did come out of nowhere and blind side us," Izzo said of the owner's actions. "He'd been asking for more rent since May, but never to the point where he threatened to kick us out of the place. And unfortunately because of the management agreement, it was terminable upon 30 days' notice. At least he was kind enough to let us stay until our second anniversary so we could go out in style."
Also reportedly scheduled to close is Pepperz, a popular restaurant that opened this past February next door to the Inferno. Both businesses took over spaces that had long been empty. "I think we were indicators that things were turning around on Main Street," Izzo said. "Our location had been vacant for two years, and the location that Pepperz is in had been vacant for two-and-a-half years. We took a dead part of Main Street and put some vitality into it."
So much so that this past July was the best month ever for the Inferno, not an easy accomplishment for what is traditionally a very slow month. "We almost tripled sales from last July," Izzo said. "That's with the Art Fair falling in the middle of July and kind of wrecking Main Street for all of the people who normally do business on Main Street. I love the Art Fair, but being a business owner on Main Street during the fair can be a little sad."
Having to close next month doesn't signal the death knell for the Inferno, Izzo cautioned. "What I'd really like to move into is something bigger and better than what we have now. I would love to go into a situation where we own the place – instead of paying rent, we're paying off the mortgage. And instead of operating a liquor license under a management agreement, we own it outright. That's the most attractive option. I've got to believe that space is out there – and hopefully in Ann Arbor."
Although news of the closing only began circulating late last week, Izzo has already received several interesting offers. Some have volunteered to help find a new home for the Inferno, while others have approached him about investing in a new club. And local club and bar owners have expressed interest in hosting the Improv's shows until a new location can be found. "What we have to do now is sift through it all and see what's going to be most effective for us. It's great to have multiple options at this point," Izzo said.
Those options could include moving the club to another city such as Ferndale, Clawson or Rochester. Ann Arbor is still his first choice, however. "It's a well-traveled route people are familiar with."
In the meantime, business will continue as usual at the Inferno. The bittersweet four-night anniversary celebration will begin Thursday, Sept. 7 with a five-hour improv marathon to raise funds to help finance the move into a new space. The night will feature 10 of the Inferno's most popular improv troupes, each performing a half-hour segment. Closing night performances of the popular "The X Show" and "The Damnation Game" will take place Friday and Saturday nights. And on Sept. 10 – its second anniversary – the Inferno will close after a full night of comedy and surprises.
After that? Come hell or high water, the Improv Inferno will rise again.
Part two of this story continues in Curtain Calls ONLINE at


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