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Can a live music venue also be a co-op? Conor Byrne Pub wants to find out

A photo of the entrance to Conor Byrne Pub at night. An Irish flag and a wooden sign are hung above the door.
Brady Harvey
The pub has been located on Ballard Ave for over 100 years. It was formerly known as "The Owl" and became "Conor Byrne" in the early '90s.

Seattle’s Conor Byrne Pub may be the first of its kind when it re-opens as a live music venue co-op.

Adria Dukich worked at the pub for 13 years. She wrestled with the idea of taking it over when she found out the owners were calling it quits. But it was too big of a commitment.

Instead, Dukich and other former employees proposed a co-op business model. This way, the risk doesn’t fall on just one person.

"That felt like we were empowering our community to have a voice and a say in what is important to them, and dear to them, instead of hoping that it doesn't turn into something completely different because of money," Dukich said.

Just last week, the group launched a campaign to raise money for start-up costs. They’ve already surpassed their goal of $40,000. And over 140 members have already joined.

"I think it continues to boost our confidence that this is a doable approach to kind of change the story about how to run a music venue and bar," said Maria Rocco, who is part of the co-op's leadership team.

Rocco said it’s also an opportunity for them to focus on how a business can take care of its employees, the musicians, and the greater community.

The new Conor Byrne will focus on creating a revenue stream with a membership program, making changes to the bar, including adding more nonalcoholic options and turning the stage into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit so they can apply for arts and culture grants.

Mark Quinn is a part of the Conor Byrne co-op team and was a bartender for the pub.

"This is an amazing opportunity to build a sustainable model that's a part of the culture and fabric of the city and has an opportunity to stay there stably for a long time," Quinn said.

Conor Byrne has been a fixture in Seattle as a place for up-and-coming musicians to get stage time. Artists like Tomo Nakayama, Sera Cahoone, and The Head and the Heart have all performed at the venue. The group hopes to continue that legacy.

"Our community wants to see us succeed and I think if we succeed, we all succeed in helping Seattle continue to be an important musical hub," Dukich said.

Dukich said they hope to reopen, ideally by mid-May, but at least in time for the summer.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Grace Madigan is KNKX's former Arts & Culture reporter. Her stories focused on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.