Arts and Entertainment

Doing The Charleston

By BILL MICKELSON

What’s Up writer

“The Charleston lives, Brem-erton lives, Bring it back in 2008,” a handmade sign posted in a corner of the Artists for Freedom and Unity hall reads.

It’s a sign of the times. A sign of the energy and positivity that’s brewing in Bremerton’s alternative arts district — the Charleston Arts District — on Callow Avenue.

The area has had somewhat of a shady history in the past decade but that’s something that the greater Charleston community and the recent influx of artistic energy is aiming to change.

“For so long, this street’s been in a slump and it’s sad,” 20-something Bremerton resident and AFU member Andy More said. “There’s so much potential here. This is the first street you see when you get to Bremerton, so let’s make it something good.”

In February, More and girlfriend/partner Angel Perry leased the building at 333 Callow Ave., which used to house The Charleston Theatre and more recently G-Style Knights nightclub (which closed in 2007).

With a gang of support, More and Perry are turning the space into an all-ages music venue for all styles and have renamed it The Charleston.

“Everybody’s so stoked that we’re keeping it original and calling it the Charleston,” Perry said.

That name dates back not only to the movie house days of the early 2000s but also back in Bremerton’s history when the Callow Avenue District was the unincorporated town of Charleston.

Now, it’s become a rallying ground for the alternative arts crowd.

The Charleston Music Venue’s first show is tentatively planned for this Friday, welcoming 10 bands for the sixth annual Chaospalooza starting at 5 p.m. as long as all the permits have been approved.

A grand opening is slated for April 5.

The Charleston is the latest in an influx of arts-related businesses that have taken up residence in the Callow Avenue district in the past few years.

Last year, the Artists for Freedom and Unity — an all-ages arts cooperative featuring visual arts and music — set up shop replacing the old Metropolis Gallery, while just around the corner on Sixth Street the Ironhead Saloon — a 21+ bar and music venue — moved in.

Shortly before that in 2006, The Charleston Ballroom moved onto Callow as well, mingling with the music venues, tattoo shops, a pottery store and restaurants. Most recently, similar minded-businesses Smitty’s Tattoo Shop and Gus and Gus Cafe moved in 2008.

“I’m really glad to see that happen,” tattooist Fat Sean of Tattoo Technique, the longest-standing tattoo shop on the block said of the influx. “This is definitely an up-and-coming arts district.”

He noted his support for The Charleston Music Venue as did many other businesses on the block including the owners of the Ironhead, Gus and Gus, the AFU and one of the street’s oldest tenants, Hank Berquist of the Rainbow Vacuum Shop.

Berquist has been on the block for 50 years now, noting that while some of the less-reputable businesses like Elmo’s adult bookstore don’t seem to be going anywhere, “we’ve got a lot of nice places as well,” he said.

And if the Charleston plans to fit that niche, he’s all for it.

“We don’t want to do this just for us,” Perry said. “We want to do it for the whole — anyone who wants to get involved.”

“Not only making (The Charleston) the place to be, but this street, this whole area,” More added. “What we really want to be is a stable all ages venue. A place where you know for a fact that there’s going to be a show almost every night.”

With that type of draw for concert-goers of all ages, hopes are that foot traffic will increase in the region, bolstering business for all while providing a solid place for an the brimming all ages music scene in Bremerton.

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