CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Charleston’s music scene doesn’t have a problem stepping up for good causes.
Over the years, local bands have performed to raise money for people who’ve lost everything to floods, fire or just bad luck. They’ve put on concerts to encourage people to register to vote, help with medical treatment and even to pay for funeral expenses.
Now, they’re rallying around “The Bakery,” the 100-year-old former Purity Bread factory on the edge of Charleston’s West Side.
During most of the 20th century, the factory was a thriving business and a local institution. The factory baked, packaged, and shipped out Purity Maid Bread throughout the region.
The company was sold to Flowers Bakery in the late 1980s, which eventually closed the location and sold the property to the Multi-Cap anti-poverty agency in 1992.
Multi-Cap filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and sold the building to Phil Shafer for about $620,000, according to Gazette reports at the time.
Chris Ojeda, frontman for heavy metal band Byzantine and one of the tenants said, “Phil told me he wanted to turn the place into storage units, but that just never panned out.”
Instead, Shafer began renting space out to small businesses and artists. The hulking structure quietly metamorphosed into a hive of creative people.
However, Ojeda and the other tenants are concerned for the building’s future.
Last month, the building’s owner Phil Shafer expressed deep worries that he would be unable to keep the building going. Occupancy was down and one of the building’s longest and most-lucrative tenants, the Children’s Theater of Charleston, was pulling out.
Among their concerns, he said, was the leaky roof.
It wasn’t an unreasonable worry. Rainwater gets into parts of the old building. On occasion, heavy rains have flooded portions of the lower levels. Water has caused significant damage to parts of the old factory and some rooms have been closed off because of it.
Shafer said he’d replaced about a third of the roof and made some patches, but repairing the rest of the roof would take tens of thousands of dollars.
“Sure, it needs work,” Ojeda said. “But the building has such great bones.”
From the outside, the building isn’t much to look at — just another aging, industrial workspace — but Chris Vance, lead singer for Charleston-based band Farnsworth, said it’s perfect for indie musicians like him to store gear, rehearse, and even just get away from his regular workday for a few minutes.
Vance said he and the band have had their current rehearsal area for three years, but they’ve been in the building for around six years total. They’ve turned what used to be a couple of old offices into something between a seasoned college dorm room and a punk rock practice space.
Shafer, Vance said, has left them alone, which has been nice. But the best part about renting in the factory is the location, he added.
“Our band plays most of our shows out of town,” he said. “It’s really convenient to the highway and Charleston. We can get in, unload, and go home.”
There’s also plenty of room.
“And nobody is going to complain about the noise,” he said.
Sometimes, Vance said, he can wander the hallway and hear everything from heavy metal to power pop music.
“It’s a cool neighborhood to be part of.”
Besides that, Vance said Shafer is just a legitimately nice guy.
“He’s been really great with us,” he said. “Very understanding.”
Shafer said he liked his artistic tenants.
“I haven’t had a whole lot of trouble,” he said. “Every now and again, you get someone who doesn’t pay you, but that’s kind of what comes with managing properties.”
The building isn’t just musicians.
Different tenants have carved out their own particular spaces in the labyrinthian former factory.
Some of the other renters include the Hole in the Wall art studio, the Limelight Theater, and the Dawg House Mixed Martial Arts gym.
“That’s security here,” Ojeda joked.
Word about Shafer’s troubles, thanks largely to a Facebook group, got out to the local music community and he suddenly found a slew of new tenants.
“This puts me slightly better off than where I was before,” he acknowledged, but that’s just breathing room.
The roof still needs a lot of work.
Meanwhile, people are putting together fundraiser shows over the next couple of months. The first show will be held August 12 at The Empty Glass, but the tenants of the building are trying to organize something in October at the old bakery that will include Ojeda’s band, Byzantine.
“We figure we can do it in the loading dock,” he said. “That should get us a couple of hundred people. The place is big enough for it.”
Maybe that could be the start of something, he mused. Charleston has clubs and bars that can hold a crowd of a hundred or so and theaters that can hold over 1,000, but nothing much that can host anything in between. It could be something worth looking into — maybe on an occasional basis.
“It’s really a hidden gem of a place,” he said. “But it could be so much more than it is.”