Nichol Stevenson is convinced that the third time will be the charm for House of Soul, an intimate performance venue and nightclub located at Tucker and Washington.
She had to open then close again because of two bouts with cancer – which is now in remission. After holding special occasion private events for several months, House of Soul officially opened its doors as a weekend establishment on October 15, 2019. Things were slow at first, but traffic was increasing by leaps and bounds because of several high-profile birthday parties and their staple monthly events, Café Soul and Trap Soul Paint.
“We were just kicking into gear,” Stevenson said. “The space had really taken off.”
She was ready for one of her most successful weekends to date, thanks to a Sneakers Ball on March 21, Café Soul on March 27 and Trap Soul Paint on March 29. All three events were sold-out.
The universe had other plans. Before any of those events could take place, Stevenson had to close the doors on House of Soul because of the coronavirus social distancing orders.
“It was the weirdest feeling ever,” Stevenson said. “It was like, what do I do with myself? I can’t go to work. I can’t be there to serve people.”
But as an eternal optimist, Stevenson managed to find a bright side.
“If this hadn’t happened, I don’t think that I would have truly recognized the value that we have,” Stevenson said. “Entertainment is an essential part of people’s lives. Be it gospel, jazz R&B, blues or pop. Seeing people like D-Nice and everybody on Facebook and Instagram going live as a substitute for what you go out for, showed me that it’s hard to replace who we are and what we do.”
Even as she sees things in a positive light, Stevenson admits some harsh realities of the abrupt closure. She doesn’t know exactly when she will be open again – but promises it will be as soon as she can.
She has lost money and momentum. There’s the income she generates from the club that she won’t see. She’s also spent a substantial amount on marketing promoting her upcoming events – that are no longer happening –and building the brand for her club as it waits for the tide to turn, as far as the pandemic.
She’s not the only one.
Her staff, the bands and artists that come through to perform have temporarily lost their livelihood.
“A bartender can’t go live and make drinks over Instagram and Facebook for tips, so how do we support them?” Stevenson asked. “I want everybody to get support at this time, but how do we do it? We can’t come together for an event. We can’t rally together for a big fundraiser if we can’t go out.”
Several of her customers displayed unexpected generosity when she told them she would be temporarily unavailable to offer them the House of Soul experience, with no clear date on when things will resume.
“I’ve had people call and say, ‘I had a VIP reserved for $500. You can hold the reservation and we will just figure it out’,” Stevenson said. “In a situation where we could appear to be hopeless, I feel that people are going to rally together and support each other. I saw a Facebook post that said, when this is all over, I’m going to make sure that I support local and small businesses.’”
Her situation is also more positive than most because of her landlord.
“Mr. Tony Thompson, the owner of the building, is also committed to the vision of House of Soul,” Stevenson said. “That makes a difference and I’m appreciative to have his support – but everyone doesn’t have an owner like him.”
And because she is only open two days a week, she is aware that she has a smaller loss window.
“There are some people who are in the business who are open five days a week and take care of their children’s tuition and family bills and live off of what they do,” Stevenson said. “They will have to lay off employees. I hope that if they don’t own their own buildings, that the landlords that they are renting from will give them some grace.”
She knows the future will include a major transition for herself and other club owners – like The Marquee and Smoke Sessions, among others – as they attempt to regroup.
She’s ready for House of Soul’s next chapter.
“We appreciate all of the support we’ve received up until now and we are looking forward to relaunching with a new kitchen and bringing some of the best food, art and music to St. Louis,” Stevenson said. “I’m not getting down. I felt down for a second. But I thought about how this isn’t the first time I’ve had to close and open again.
“So, I’m just hitting the restart button and making it ‘do what it do.’”