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Owners Of Beloved Johnson County Jazz Venue Vow To Reopen, But Maybe Not In Johnson County

Jeff Widgren
Courtesy Jeff Widgren
Forward (TJ Martley, Clint Ashlock, Ben Leifer, Dave Chael and John Kizilarmut) performed at Take Five on August 1, 2015.

Kansas City jazz lovers are agonizing over the news that Take Five Coffee + Barwill close on Aug. 15.

“We are very sad to have to make this announcement, but Take Five is going to be taking an indefinite ‘set break,’” owners Lori and Doug Chandler wrote on the venue’s Facebook page on July 31.

Since then, an outpouring of sentiment on social media has “made a very difficult situation for us much easier to bear,” says Lori Chandler.

In 2010, the Chandlers turned a defunct Caribou Coffee deep in the suburbs at 151st and Nall into a destination for live jazz on weekend nights. Last summer, they doubled their venue’s size with a move to the southeast corner of 135th and Metcalf in the Corbin Park shopping center.

They knew they were taking a risk with the location but had high hopes based on what they said was Corbin Park developer Mike Schlup’s promise that the shopping center would fill up with new tenants quickly, bringing more daytime traffic to sustain the coffee shop during the weekdays.

“We designed the room from the ground up for acoustics and gave our musicians the stage they very richly deserved – and people came, and listened, and it was amazing,” the Chandlers wrote.

But nearby storefronts remained empty, and when the promised Scheels sporting goods store opened, it did so with competition in the form of a Starbucks in the lobby – and a plumbing problem so persistent that it’s now the subject of “ongoing legal action,” according to the Chandlers.

“We have tried to work this out with the developer to no avail, and coupled with the above-mentioned structural issues we simply have to admit it’s time to move on,” they said.

Take Five’s capacity is 189 people, and Chandler says the room’s largest music crowd was 115. A typical music-night audience ranged from 60 to 80 people, she says, with patrons coming from as far away as Lawrence and Independence.

“The music itself worked – we gave a guarantee to the bands, we charged a cover and were able to pay the bands with 100 percent of the door,” she says. “We did pretty well with food and beverage on music night.”

Originally, the Chandlers didn’t intend for Take Five to be a jazz venue, but that began to change shortly after they opened in 2010, when they hosted a fundraiser to bankroll a European tour for Herman Mehari, Ryan Lee and Ben Leifer of Diverse. Chandler says they were as surprised as anyone that such a music venue could thrive in the Johnson County suburbs.

“We discovered how wonderful the jazz community is,” Chandler says. “It is a part of Kansas City’s heritage and it does need more places, whether those are Downtown, Midtown or Johnson County. It’s worth trying and we showed that it can work. Even out here there is interest, there are people who want to come listen.”

The show of support has strengthened her resolve to re-open in a more suitable location, though they haven’t identified one and Chandler estimates it could take at least six months to do so.

“Moving a business isn’t an easy thing, especially with a liquor license,” she says. “If we learned anything from this experience, we have to be very, very careful with our selection of our next location.”

Although Chandler says it would be easier to stay in Kansas, where they know how to navigate the bureaucracy for licenses and permits, she’s open to other possibilities.

“It would kind of make me sad to leave Johnson County because I feel like we’re filling a need here,” she says. “But the Missouri side is not out of the question. There’s some neat stuff going on just over the river in North Kansas City, some interesting things happening in the West Bottoms, and in Westwood. Those are all areas people have suggested.”

Meanwhile, there are two more weekends of scheduled jazz, which will give customers time to redeem gift cards, or just stop by to pay respects and tip baristas. Take Five’s current run ends on Saturday, Aug. 15, with Set Break Party hosted by Mark Lowrey and the La Fonda All Stars at 8 p.m.

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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