October 23, 2013 | by Mark Lee
A timely 9:30 Club tribute
D.C. Council, 9:30 Club, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large) (center at podium) presents a ceremonial resolution honoring the 9:30 Club to (at right, left-to-right) co-owners Seth Hurwitz and Rich Heinecke, and manager Jean Homza, along with D.C. Council members in the Council chamber at the Wilson Building. (Photo courtesy 9:30 Club)

It was time – and the 9:30 Club more than worthy.

Since the music and entertainment venue opened in 1980 on what were then desolate nighttime streets of a downtrodden downtown, the national and international awards garnered have been numerous. Originally located on F Street, N.W., at the street number 930 of its name and opening time, the legendary nightspot has long been among the most celebrated contributors to D.C. nightlife.

Being beloved by local area residents and appreciated by successive generations of music fans for more than three decades has been the greatest achievement of the business. It is perennially the most popular and best-attended venue of its size in the world since moving to its current location at 815 V St., N.W., in 1996.

On Oct. 1, the local landmark added another distinction to an extraordinary legacy. At the initiation of Council member David Catania, the D.C. Council presented the nightclub with a ceremonial resolution recognizing “the 9:30 Club for being an iconic venue for live musical and other entertainment” and “to honor the 9:30 Club for its designation as the Best Big-Room Venue in America by Rolling Stone Magazine, Top Club by Billboard Touring Awards and Nightclub of the Year by Pollstar Magazine.”

Launched by Dody DiSanto and Jon Bowers at the Atlantic Building, the venue was acquired by Seth Hurwitz and Rich Heinecke in 1986. Hurwitz had handled bookings at the venue for several years following DJ stints at the era’s alternative music radio stations WHFS and WGTB, and booking bands at the former Ontario Theatre in Adams Morgan.

The business partners met when Heinecke was substitute teaching at Herbert Hoover Middle School in Potomac, Md., where Hurwitz was a student. They shared an interest in music and struck up a friendship that would later turn to business. In addition to the 9:30 Club, the professional duo created I.M.P. Productions, have operated Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., since 2004, and produce numerous concerts at venues throughout the Washington and Baltimore areas. They recently assumed management of the historic Lincoln Theatre on U Street, initiating diverse event bookings to revitalize the recently idled venue.

Reflecting the affection performers hold for “9:30,” Patrick Stump of the band Fall Out Boy famously said, “It’s got so much character, you wonder if the locals know how lucky they are.” Most do – listing a litany of favorite shows and memorable music experiences at the hotspot over the years.

From the cramped-with-character and often odoriferous space of its downtown birthplace to present-day spacious main room with mezzanine in a former radio station warehouse space, the ever-popular destination led the revival of the expanding MidCity entertainment zone extending to its nexus with 9th and U streets.

Hurwitz is proud of that heritage. “We helped make the city a community and have helped build a city,” he says in his signature no-nonsense manner, referring both to the business and its cadre of loyal staff.

Employees, like longtime 9:30 Club manager and industry advocacy leader Jean Homza, include “a lot of lifers,” Hurwitz notes. The co-owners work hard to engender that longevity, he explains, saying employees don’t consider it “a temporary way station, and we don’t treat them that way.”

It’s a philosophy that influences operations from back to front. Whether employees, performers, road crews, or those entering with tickets in hand, Hurwitz states simply, “who doesn’t want to be treated well?” “As much as I’d like to take credit for being saintly,” he jokes, “it’s really just good business.”

A business a city is fortunate, and grateful, to call its own.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

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