Like a lot of businesses, it’s been tough year for Ground Zero.
Attendance at the all-ages Allenstown teen music center dropped precipitously over the summer. This was due partly to a down economy, but also because the club relocated to a bigger space as the school year was ending.
To bolster revenue, the club recently introduced a line of band gear with the Ground Zero logo, including strings, cables, drumsticks and guitar picks. The alcohol and tobacco-free venue is also raising money selling smokeless electronic “BluCigs” cigarettes, both at the club and on their web site.
But whether that will be enough to keep Ground Zero open is unclear.
“We’ve exhausted all of our personal savings trying to keep the club going,” says Christian Skinner, who runs the club with his wife Starr and another business partner. “Our hope is that because school is started up, word of mouth will start picking up and people will realize that we’re there.”
Ground Zero presents original live music five or six nights a week in the summer months, Fridays and Saturdays the rest of the year. It’s a mix of solo singer-songwriters, alt rockers and metal bands of every stripe.
The club offers, says Skinner, “a safe positive place where teenagers can interact with their peers, listen to some great original music, shoot pool, play video games and create a safe haven for the community youth.”
To that end, anyone who wants to play Ground Zero must submit lyrics first. “We make sure the bands aren’t promoting anything nasty,” says Skinner. Offers from bands who dwell on suicide, promiscuity, or drug and alcohol use are politely declined.
Skinner says he and his wife both “believe in the Lord,” but Ground Zero isn’t a ministry. “We steer clear of organized religion,” he says. “We don’t push our faith on any of the kids there, we don’t have Bibles laying all over the place. But we book primarily positive rock bands.”
There are problems on both sides of that hard line. Acts with drawing power can’t play the club. Though Skinner won’t name names, the fact that he books non-Christian bands has earned him the enmity of some church groups.
Another self-imposed barrier: Skinner won’t rent his space out for raves, or independently produced shows that don’t hew to a positive line.
With that in mind, he’s asked, what needs to happen to keep Ground Zero alive?
“Something, I don’t really know,” says the normally ebullient Skinner. “We’re not government-funded, we’re not nonprofit [though he says guidance on how to become one would be welcomed]. We’re not funded by churches or any orgs; we’ve always done this straight out of pocket.”
Their website has a PayPal donation link, he says, but over the years it’s raised a mere $60.
Since opening his first after-hours coffee house in 1996, Christian Skinner has run a lot of teen music centers – Little Vegas and Narrow Way Café in Manchester, Café Eclipse in Concord and Club Drifters in Nashua. He opened Ground Zero in 2007.
But he’s never seen it this bad, and his vision of a safe, positive environment for area teenagers is now colliding with another hard reality – Skinner has four children of his own.
“We’ve faced our share of closures,” Skinner said by cell phone the other day, as he rode around Manchester tacking up flyers. “My wife and I did this for six years with no kids and we were able to get by. Now it’s at the point where two kids are in school – there’s school clothes.”
“We’re not the type of people to worry, we have faith,” he says. “But it’s at the point where we need to go out and get day jobs to support our family, or something miraculous has to happen.”