The Starline Social Membership in Oakland will return this fall as a worker-owned collective
When news broke last fall that the Starline Social Club in Oakland was for sale, it was a major blow to a scene that is already in free fall. The club’s business model was 100 percent based on filling the music hall’s 400-person ballroom for shows on the upper floor and providing parties and food for parties on the ground floor. Take-away drinks wouldn’t be enough to keep it going. When the pandemic broke out, the bills piled up and there was still no guaranteed government relief in sight.
To save the deal, Starline’s partners – including artists Adam Hatch and Drew Bennett and Ramen Shop co-owner Sam White – decided to find a buyer who could buy the 8,520-square-foot space for $ 3.2 million and the business himself for $ 300,000 and in the hopes of finding a like-minded buyer who believed in the inclusive community programming he had become known for. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that when the second round of Small Business Administration Loans went through and with the future promise of Shuttered Venue Operator Grant (SVOG).
Now it’s slated to reopen, this time as a worker-owned collective, says founding partner Adam Hatch. The process of determining the best structure for the new model is at an early stage, but that is the plan. “Running Starline has always been like building the plane while you fly it,” says Hatch. “Now that we have some downtime, we’re overhauling a lot of our systems, dialing in, and renovating the building.” These include improvements to the kitchen to increase efficiency and volume, as well as some fixes to reduce the ubiquitous bathroom line.
When Starline opened in 2015, it immediately became a hub for the local art and music scene, hosting jazz nights, comedy, poetry, karaoke, and open microphone nights for various crowds in its cavernous space. The building that the partners were able to acquire in 2018 was originally an Odd Fellows Hall built in 1893. Before becoming today’s club, tenants included a salon, a social club for the deaf, and Starline Janitorial Supply. Before Hatch, an artist and former owner of LoBot Gallery, started it as the Starline Social Club, he hosted underground dance parties, art installations, and food pop-ups there.
Over the years, artists like Solange Knowles and Big Freedia, local hip-hop stars, metal and punk bands, have hosted Oakland’s largest natural wine fair, and endless events to support the community, from parties to raise rental funds for neighbors in need To house raw material villages for locals with showers, hot meals, hairdressers and much more.
Now the energy of the community will return and be even more deeply anchored in the business than before. “I realized that we’ve always been a very community space and that if we wanted to come out of that, the idea of getting it into its final form is a community based, mixed use venue that is actually owned by the people who do work there, ”says Hatch. “That way everyone has some skin in the game and it just feels like this is the right move.”
“I love the idea that people work there and not only have a sense of personal responsibility, but also a bit of personal responsibility,” says Hatch. “Understanding what that means on a technical level is not complete yet, but that’s where we’re going and that’s where we’re going.”
Hatch and its partners emailed former employees outlining the upcoming changes and giving them the opportunity to participate. Many moved on during the pandemic, Hatch says, and moved to other cities like Los Angeles or Austin or changed their careers completely. “We just want to create the platform and refine the infrastructure so that it is more efficient and better to work there,” says Hatch. “We want to give people freedom of choice in their workplace.”
By September, it is possible that more people will be vaccinated and ready to see shows in groups again, especially given Governor Newsom’s promise to reopen the state by June 15. 1920s, an explosion of new art, music and thoughts.
“All of the artists, musicians, and activists have their craft distilled, and when it comes time to open the contents it becomes incredible,” says Hatch. “There has to be a venue for it.”