Sad news, folks: Music venue/art gallery/quirky clothing retailer hybrid Cairo announced today that it is closing up shop after eight years at its home on East Summit Avenue and East Mercer Street. Now, the venue joins a number of other shuttered arts and music spaces. Some venues have stopped hosting live music performances—the reopened Comet Tavern and Atlas Clothing, for example—and other venues are long gone.
Shop co-owners Aimee Butterworth and Joel Leshefka broke the news on Cairo's blog, citing financial troubles.
The goal was never to have a "successful" retail store, rather a store that could support the artists and curators utilizing the rest of the space. Retail-wise, it's always been a struggle. Cairo is tucked away, with minimal foot traffic, and making ends meet financially over the years has been a profoundly difficult challenge.
For a long time we managed to overlook the financial shortcomings in the spirit of creating a unique, accessible space. As much as anyone, we've benefited emotionally and creatively from being a part of this community. Personally, we've seen our favorite shows in Cairo's living room (Stephanie & Wet Paint DMM reunion anyone??), had our senses stretched, and our values shaped and challenged via conversations and experiences within Cairo's four walls. It's been our home in an ever changing city and world.
As with everything though, there comes a time to move on, to move forward, closing chapters in our lives that will create room for new concepts and projects. It's bittersweet, but also necessary.
We want to stress, as the current owners of Cairo, that this decision has not come lightly, nor quickly. Behind the scenes we've attempted countless ways to make everything add up to keep the doors open. There have been some successes, but many more roadblocks.
We want to thank everyone who has made Cairo possible, especially the amazing curatorial talent we've had over the years, and dedicated employees. If you saw a show at Cairo, we want you to know that the individuals behind that event did it as a donation to this city. Any money ever donated went directly to artists. It's a rare thing, and we have appreciated each and every person involved with booking music or art Cairo. THANK YOU. truly.
According to Butterworth and Leshefka, Cairo will still be open through May. "Supporting music and art in a city like Seattle is all of our responsibility. We were happy to carry a small torch for the stretch we did, and we know people will continue to host shows, come up with creative mix-use spaces, and the like. But, if you've had a great idea on the back burner, we'd recommend you execute that idea now. No time like the present folks," they wrote in an e-mail.
The news certainly broke some hearts here at The Stranger. From our IT coordinator, Erin Resso:
I’ve just always appreciated what they’ve brought to that neighborhood, and the community they’ve fostered through their music and art shows. They’ve always done a really good job of showcasing DIY artists and making an accessible and welcoming place for some of the more ‘experimental’ artists in this city. Sad to see it go.
From Jen Graves:
It was such a sweet place. Let's see. I once sat on the floor in the back gazing at Emily Pothast's cosmic drawings until I actually felt more aligned with the universe or the world or this whole place. I saw Jamey Braden von Mooter's stuff there. I loved the way the art slunk around above the retail like a bunch of cats.
From Dave Segal:
Cairo is a minuscule performance space with few amenities and a not-so-great sound system. Yet despite those shortcomings, it has hosted some of the most fascinating and enriching musical shows I’ve had the pleasure to experience in my dozen years in Seattle. Off the top of my head, I can think of several that figuratively launched me out of Cairo’s cramped quarters and into altered states: High Wolf, Spencer Clark (Monopoly Child Star Searchers, Fourth World Magazine, etc.), MV&EE, Blank Realm, Panabrite, Daniel Higgs (ex-Lungfish), White Rainbow, Mark McGuire, Ensemble Economique, LoveTan, DreamSalon, Wet Paint DMM, and Hair & Space Museum. I’m sure I’m forgetting some other crucial performances, but the fact is, Cairo in its eight years of operating took chances on obscure, challenging acts that most venues wouldn’t view as feasible. On top of that, Cairo hosted one of the most joyous festivals in the city: Vibrations, a free music and arts extravaganza held every August in Volunteer Park; it was always a special trip. Cairo’s closing is a tough loss for Capitol Hill and Seattle’s cultural underground/freak scene.
According to Leshefka and Butterworth, Vibrations Festival will live on. This year's gathering is scheduled for August 28. But upcoming festivals are less certain. "Eventually it will need a non-profit partner to continue on. They wrote in an e-mail: "Hit us up if you are/represent that potential not-for-profit!"
From music calendar editor Kim Selling:
As someone who’s never outwardly identified as a musician or artist, I know that having a space to engage in music and art is of the utmost importance to me — to feel involved and connected while maintaining my creatively-insecure, self-preservationist bubble. Cairo has been, since its very first day on Summit & Mercer, a place where I, and many other enthusiastic DIY weirdos, could attend shows, participate in workshops, and silkscreen on the cheap. It didn’t matter if I liked everything that was happening there — it mattered that it was happening at all. There aren’t many spaces for bedroom crooners, brat punks, and no wave truthers to gather for $5 on a weekend and genuinely enjoy each other’s contributions and collaborations, and Cairo really filled that hole. I’ll miss it dearly, along with the venue family that made it as open and accommodating as it has remained since the beginning.
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This post has been updated since its original publication.