It takes a village: Mutual aid at Quimby Village is creating a destination for music fans

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there’s been a growing, elusive sense in the U.S. that “we’re all in this together” to some extent.

In Fort Wayne, one place this sentiment has been evident in recent years is in the symbiotic relationships developing between businesses and neighborhoods around the Clyde Theatre at Quimby Village.

The Clyde Theatre, as well as its attached Club Room at The Clyde restaurant and Crescendo Coffee & More, are owned by music industry giant Chuck Surack of Sweetwater. As Executive Director of the Clyde, Club Room, and Crescendo, Gregg Coyle recalls that when he first met with Surack about the job, the surrounding Quimby Village and South side neighborhoods played a large role in their conversation.

“Our conversation was about how Chuck grew up with an affinity for this part of town, and how the Quimby Village area hadn’t been loved as much as it needed in a long time,” Coyle says. “We discussed: How can we help revitalize this area, and what can we do for the community in this space?”

The Clyde Theatre, Club Room at the Clyde, and Crescendo Coffee & More at Quimby Village.

While Coyle isn’t from Fort Wayne, he quickly learned the history of the neighborhood and the Clyde as he gave tours of the theatre to Club Room diners curious about its renovation.

“So many folks remember seeing their first movie here,” Coyle says. “People in their 60s told me about how, when they were young teens, they used to cut class and sneak in to see 18+ rated movies here. Many couples came here for their first dates and are married today. There are all of these great memories in this building, and that stays with it.”

The Clyde Theatre when it was under construction before reopening to the public in 2018.

Since the Clyde reopened in 2018 as a standing-room concert venue, it has hosted more than 140 live shows and events, bringing more than 140,000 Fort Wayne residents and visitors back through its doors to make new memories.

“It has this whole new life now that we get to honor,” Coyle says.

A Fitz and The Tantrums show at the Clyde Theatre.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, honoring the Clyde’s ongoing legacy and its neighborhood meant going off stage and behind the scenes to find different ways to serve.

Buoyed by Sweetwater’s growth and support during the pandemic, the Clyde and Club Room became a ground zero for the company to give back to grassroots efforts and people across the city—not merely in the spirit of charity or one-way exchanges of goods and services, but rather, in a spirit of collaboration, communication, and mutual aid. It’s all rooted in the understanding that it takes a village to support a burgeoning live music scene in Fort Wayne, Coyle explains.

The Club Room at the Clyde hosts live music events six nights a week at Quimby Village.

At the beginning of the pandemic, his team's acts of service ranged from writing notes to customers on carry out bags at the Club Room restaurant to hosting promotions on social media called “Delivered With Love,” where residents could share stories of local people who deserved free meals during the pandemic, and the Club Room would make it happen.

“One of our first ‘Delivered With Love’ meals was to a school lunch lady who lives in the Indian Village neighborhood nearby,” Coyle says. “With schools closed, she was home during the pandemic, and she continued making lunches for all of the kids in her neighborhood from her home. When we came up with this campaign, the intent was to have friends, neighbors, and co-workers share and amplify inspiring stories, like hers, as a simple reminder that we’re all in this together.”

Thank you messages to customers on carry out bags at The Club Room at the Clyde during the pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, the Clyde’s team put the benefits of its wide-open 21,000-square-foot main performance hall to use in new ways to help Fort Wayne's community, too. It began hosting live performances, both in-person (socially distanced) and virtually. It also provided a rehearsal space to Fort Wayne’s Youth Symphony Orchestra, and several performances were recorded and broadcast locally on PBS.

“The Clyde provides great acoustics and enough room that 85 kids can spread throughout the venue, where the audience would normally be, and practice safely together there,” Coyle says.

A performance of Beethoven’s Fifth by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Youth Orchestra at the Clyde Theatre.

During the pandemic, the Clyde and Club Room have been expanding their offerings, too. Just before the shutdown, the Club Room started construction on a project that tripled its dining space, providing room for 400 guests and the new Crescendo Café. This allows the venue to host visitors from morning coffee meetings to late-night shows at the Clyde and live music nights at The Club Room six nights a week.

All combined, the three ventures provide jobs for more than 150 Fort Wayne residents, Coyle says. They hire many employees from the immediate South side area, too. With opportunities for advancement between the three ventures, people with an interest in music and events have access to value-adding careers with national exposure.

“Our team members—many of whom are from this neighborhood—are part of what makes the Clyde Theatre so special and successful,” Coyle says. “They get to work with some of the best touring artists in the country, be it Rock, Country, Blues, or Jazz. When national touring acts come in, we want them to love coming to the venue as well as this neighborhood, too.”

Crescendo Coffee & More at Quimby Village.

The Clyde helps touring artists make the most of their time on the South side by providing them with bikes and maps of nearby parks and trails, like those at Foster Park. With fans coming from 20 to 40 states on average for bigger touring shows, the venue communicates its event information to nearby restaurants and businesses, as well, so they can prepare for up to 2,300 guests to have an enjoyable experience in town.

“We appreciate having the bigger capacity in the Club Room and Crescendo for our concert fans to enjoy dinner and drinks now before or after a show,” Coyle says. “However, we want all the businesses on the South side to do really well. We try to have good communication with our partners, so they can be prepared.”

Crescendo Coffee & More at Quimby Village.

It all goes back to the fact that creating a destination for events extends beyond the venue itself to its surrounding community. This holistic mindset has the Clyde taking on another project in 2021. In thinking about creating a destination for events, parking is a big part of the equation. When the Club Room expanded, it took over 200 parking spaces formerly used exclusively by Clyde guests, so Coyle’s team began renting additional parking space at Foster Park Plaza behind the venue. They equipped this space with a parking team, security, and lighting—all free to customers. The Clyde Theatre hosts live events and concerts, featuring internationally renowned artists.

Now, his team is making deals with local drivers for Uber and Lyft, so some fans won’t even need to park for shows, and drivers can get more business.

“Uber and Lyft drivers have been troubled with not having enough people to drive during the pandemic, so we found a Facebook page for local Uber drivers, and we’ve started giving them information about our shows,” Coyle says. “We’ll offer them a sandwich or a coffee from Crescendo if they pick up a few customers, so it is a win-win for drivers and guests.”

In the end, it’s about making the best possible experience for music fans, and that extends beyond the Clyde's historic walls.

In other words: “It’s important to recognize everybody who contributes to a successful show night,” Coyle says.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.