When 48-year-old Peter Goretti bought the Showplace Theatre in 1992, the place was in shambles. The ceiling had more holes in it than a slice of Swiss, the peeling walls begged for a paint job, and hundreds of seats awaited a good gutting.
Other than aesthetic problems, Goretti also had to scare away the building's then-current clientele.
"When it was a dollar movie theater, people were bringing their six packs in there, sitting and watching movies and getting trashed," Goretti says.
To transform the theater into a full-fledged rock club, he took out 450 seats, built a 40-foot by 20-foot stage and full-service bar, and integrated a 28,000-watt sound system. The remodeling took three years.
Seven years later, the theater remains as one of Buffalo's few intimate music venues. Goretti also owns the Essex Street Pub, a place where Ani DiFranco and then the Goo Goo Dolls once played to 50 people. Goretti spoke about the history and future of his Buffalo baby.
Have you ever felt like the city was looking for any reason to bother you over the years, given all the time they spent arguing over something as simple as the theater's sloping floor?
The reason was no one wanted to take responsibility, like the city does all the time. I had the big City Hall shuffle. It was horrible. No wonder why all the businesses in the city move out. The more people you talk to about it, the more people get it.
Given the troubles you have had, did you ever think about moving to a different city and opening a club?
Oh, yeah. I thought about moving to the suburbs or a different city a bunch of times. But once I started restoring the venue, I decided I must finish it one way or another.
What was the first show at Showplace?
I had the Steam Donkeys. They came in, volunteered and played.
Was David Byrne's solo show as eccentric as his work with the Talking Heads?
He did a fantastic show. I am getting chills here just thinking about it. He was extremely theatrical and he loved the venue. He was sitting down in the light room upstairs and going through all these old films I had on the floor. He looked like a little kid, playing on the floor with all sorts of toys.
Do you remember the first time you brought in the bodily-fluid-spewing group Gwar?
It was stunning. It stops you in your tracks seeing them in all these wild costumes. Another one was Insane Clown Posse. They rolled in all these cases of RC Cola. And I'm wondering what the hell all this is for. I ask the guy and he says they use it for a prop. So I'm like, OK. And then all of a sudden, they start shaking them up and shooting them on all the people (laughs). One of the jugs just missed going in the window where Dan (Brabucki) the light guy was sitting upstairs. I couldn't believe it. Then I realized why they wanted me to put plastic 20 feet on each side of the wall by the stage.
What do you think of Erie County's attempts to pass a law barring clubs like Showplace from having all-ages shows?
That would not be a good thing. Our bouncers get rewarded an extra $2 if they catch an underager drinking and they throw them out on purpose so there won't be any repercussions.
How do you think Showplace compares to other Buffalo venues, like the Tralf?
Well, it has its own niche. I tried a few times to spiff it up a bit, but the kids always abuse it. They write on the walls, they put stickers on the walls, they punch holes in the walls. It's a never-ending battle. I am not ashamed of it by any means. If you want a dress-up, prim and proper act you go to the Tralf.
Have you ever been at the theater for one of the raves you host?
Oh, yeah. They are very cool. I love all the lights and the music, and the way all the people get along. The music really makes you want to move and groove - sometimes the music has pulled even me in. Some friends of mine will be there and they will get me to go out there and dance. Not a lot, but a little.