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Blues club owner calls it quits

July 28, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Harry's House of Brues will close Saturday after 13 months of bringing free, live jazz and blues music to Hagerstown's downtown.

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The business was failing financially, according to owner Harry Grandinett, who cited a variety of reasons, including a lack of space and patrons.

"Even when you couldn't get in the door because Harry's was absolutely jammed, I was losing money every minute," he wrote in a letter to the editor sent to The Herald-Mail. "There were Saturdays when I worked 17 straight hours and had $50 at the end of the day."

Grandinett did not return several telephone calls Tuesday. His letter describes persistent efforts to keep the jazz club open. He decided "with a heavy heart and deep regret" to make July 31 the last free concert.

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"I have worked until I barely could stand and have gone without sleep - tossed and turned with worry ... trying to figure out a way to make it work for me and the downtown I truly treasure," he wrote. "I tried as hard as I know how."

Working at Harry's kept Grandinett from his family, he wrote. He decided to dedicate his weekends to his three daughters and wife. "They miss me, and I miss them terribly," he wrote.

Harry's opened last year as an expansion of Grandinett's Round the Square, a coffee shop at 12 Public Square. Harry's had an East Washington Street entrance and the two businesses formed an L-shaped establishment sharing one kitchen.

Harry's House of Blues changed its name in July after a national chain threatened legal action, alleging violation of its trademark. "Blues" became "Brues" on signs and menus and House of Blues Corp. didn't sue.

Round the Square will remain open with an expanded coffee inventory and a varied lunch menu. An employee said the shop will keep its liquor license and may expand its weekend hours.

"It's a sad situation but at the same time we're kind of glad because we can focus more on the coffee shop," said Candace Mowbray, a four-year employee. "We could kind of see it coming for a while."

Harry's has hosted award-winning musicians such as Big Jack Johnson, who was named Blues Entertainer of the Year, according to Grandinett. The Joshua Bayer Trio came there after performing at the Kennedy Center.

Mike Dugan and the Blues Machine, Mad Dog and Blues Night Out were among the acts who played at Harry's.

"We had some really great people here," Mowbray said. "We were the only place in the area you could see live jazz."

Mowbray said Harry's had a smoke-free, family atmosphere. She said too few people supported the business.

"It's not like a Wal-Mart that's always going to be there. With a small business, you have to make a conscious effort to patronize them," she said.

Ed Kight said he'll miss Harry's. The bassist, a Hagerstown native, played there with Rudy and the Bluefish several times.

"It was small but that size lends itself to a level of intimacy you can't get in a bigger room," he said.

Grandinett and his staff were always appreciative of the music, he said. "They were among the best, I think."

Kight said he liked the way patrons could go in and get a sandwich without paying a cover charge.

"I wish this area would support live music more than just during Blues Fest," he said.

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