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By AJ Trager
KALAMAZOO – This Halloween weekend will be the last chance for the Kalamazoo community to come out to Metro Dance Club and enjoy the atmosphere of an after hours safe space before it closes Nov. 1.
For eight years, Metro Dance Club, or “Metro” as the locals call it, has provided an inclusive atmosphere for the LGBT community in Kalamazoo. Marty Spaulding opened the 411 Club, located in the same building, two years after Metro opened to include Karaoke and Blues nights. The building is 15,000 square feet and has a legal occupancy of 565 people.
“The overhead in a place this big is huge. The only way a property like this survives is by appealing to mainstream audiences, and that is what the dance club was designed to do. With two major colleges and several community colleges nearby, our goal was to be a mainstream dance club that was open, welcoming and accessible to everyone,” Spaulding said.
Spaulding says that catering to a small audience in a club of that size would have closed down in six months time.
Over the years, Spaulding and Metro partnered with the LGBT community on many issues and events, such as fundraisers for CARES, and was the largest sponsor of Kalamazoo Pride for years.
“We were a mainstream club that tried to fit as many people under the big tent as we could. Unfortunately, some folks needed to apply labels or misunderstood our purpose,” Spaulding said.
To straight people, Metro was a “gay bar” because of the welcoming atmosphere and inclusion of all peoples from all backgrounds, and many found it to be their bar of choice, Spaulding says. But he says it was designed as a dance club instead of a gay bar and always had a battle fighting off labels that people applied to it from both sides. “But to many gay people, it was not a ‘real’ gay bar, for whatever reason they wanted to attach that label,” he notes.
Shortly after Metro opened, the economy tanked and the club immediately felt the economic struggle. Many people lost jobs, and the club’s revenue took a hit.
Simultaneously, a 2008 smoking ban was put into place, and two casinos opened up in the area that allowed for patrons to smoke inside.
“We lost a huge chunk of our revenue every week that law went into effect, and it never came back,” Spaulding said.
But the most noticeable impact has been from the Internet, Spaulding says. The time of only meeting people at the club is over, and many people are doing their networking through online channels. Clubs used to be the hot spot where everyone went, often several nights a week, not just to socialize but to find dates as well.
“Those days are long gone now. With all the dating sites like Grindr, Scruff, etc., and social media available to the younger crowd, the ‘club’ is now a place to go once in a while,” Spaulding points out. “And it’s ‘okay to be gay’ just about anywhere now. So the dating clientele is diluted and can now be found at just about every place in town.”
The LGBT community has had many victories since 2008, and Spaulding believes that the mainstream may well be a double edged sword.
“We have lost many gay and gay-friendly clubs, and the ones left are having a tough time making ends meet. Ours was a victim mostly because of it’s size and overhead, but the influence of the Internet and the economy certainly didn’t help,” Spaulding adds.
Spaulding is unsure of what he will do at this point. It is unlikely that he will sell the property and may repurpose the space to serve another purpose.
“I think that it is a sad time for Kalamazoo,” Jay Maddock, executive director of the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, said. “It is an end of an era. It was around for many years in Kalamazoo, and it’s time for our LGBT community to gather together and find out where we are going to gather and use spaces moving forward. Metro has been a space where the GLBTQ community has gathered and gone to socialize and meet one another. It is sad to see it go.”