It's a sad day for punk rock in Seattle, specifically for the sort of fledgling, unknown bands that Gibson's had a reputation for supporting.
According to Tsui, one of the club's co-owners, the reasons for Gibson's abrupt shutdown on Sunday, August 19 boil down to operating costs: When Tsui and his partner, Ronald Lau, looked into renewing their insurance policy for the year, they were forced to face enormous increases, due to damage February's earthquake had caused to the St. Regis Hotel (the building that houses Gibson's, which is run by low-income housing provider Pioneer Human Services).
But Tsui doesn't blame the club's demise entirely on earthquake damage. He blames the condition of the neighborhood, citing an increasingly concentrated transient population that occupies the roughly two-block radius surrounding the club's location (116 Stewart Street, at Second Avenue).
"We had employees being attacked and robbed, and customers being threatened by people," Tsui says. "You stop someone from using the restrooms and they threaten you. It [got] to be too much."
The result, as Tsui sees it, was a diminished daytime clientele, an economic reality that eventually led to significant revenue loss. "It used to be we had a lot of people coming in for lunch and then going back to work, but we were definitely getting less of that," he says. "The bands were doing okay. Bands draw crowds, but we couldn't just rely on Friday and Saturday [nights] when there are seven days in a week."
Brian Foss, who has been booking Gibson's since January, and Jay McCoy, whom Foss replaced, have both been key elements to whatever success the club has seen in recent years. When asked what he was trying to do with booking for Gibson's, Foss responds, "I was trying to have fun. There are lots of bands around Seattle that I think are great, and it was just an excuse to put on shows I liked and get drunk." Foss' jovial mentality defined Gibson's charm. With the possible exception of Zak's, Gibson's was the crustiest, most punk-rock venue Seattle had going.
"Obviously, this town is shitting on local businesses left and right," Foss tells me. "Small, local joints like Hi*Score Arcade and Foxes have shut down. Zak's is going to move, and thankfully they're going to reopen somewhere else. The Rendezvous is going down. There's a lot of personality being lost." Foss blames gentrification, which may not explain the failure of every small local business in Seattle, but is inextricably tied to the "facelift" the downtown area is getting as it becomes increasingly corporatized.
Gentrification also has much to do with the mounting tension among a transient population that's being shifted around Seattle's downtown area at the whim of urban development. Tsui cites increased security at Nordstrom as one of the factors that impacted his business: "Since the [security] increase, where are people going to go?" he asks, answering the question with a forefinger pointed directly at the sidewalk outside of Gibson's.
Eventually, Tsui hopes to open a pan-Asian restaurant in the space Gibson's now occupies--providing the entire building is restored and insurance costs go down. He is hopeful about the future of the neighborhood, indicating the parking lot kitty- corner to Gibson's where it's rumored a Saks Fifth Avenue will be built. While it's sad to see the punk-rock club owner's eyes widen excitedly at the thought of running a fancy pan-Asian restaurant where dirty Gibson's once was, Tsui seems anxious to carry on with life as a small-business owner.
Punk rock or not, who can argue with that?