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VENUES: New Club and Old Struggles

"We're still feasible for a Thanksgiving opening," Toad's Place General Manager Jeff Sadler says. "But it's just as likely to be around Christmas. We are still working on the scope of the project, trying to decide just how extravagant we want to get."

Toad's Place, located at the turning basin on the canal walk, will be the only establishment that opens directly onto the water. Current plans include a performance area, VIP lounge, space for private parties and outdoor dining. "The location lends itself to so much," Sadler says. "That's why the city is behind it, we are working to give people the Richmond experience."

Diversity of attractions is the key to the strategy. According to Sadler, the real competition is getting people to go out in the first place.

At the same time, some of our already established smaller venues are struggling. The ambidextrously themed Upper East Side Jazz Lounge and Sports Bar, which has a jazz-heavy Wednesday-Saturday schedule, is still going strong, but its lease is quietly on the market. And Shockoe Slip's Fusion is struggling to fill seats two nights a week.

"It hasn't been a pleasure cruise, not that we expected it to be," says Fusion co-founder and musical director Jared Stone. The venue, as close as Richmond comes to a New York City style basement jazz club, has yet to build a dependable following. "We have good nights and bad nights," Stone says.

Leveraging the potentially large Virginia Commonwealth University student audience isn't an option. "We won't make enough money to pay the band if we fill the place with 18- and 19-year-old kids who just drink free soda and coffee refills," Stone says.

By booking nationally known performers, Toad's Place increases both the draw and the risk. "We've worked so hard because we believe in what we're doing," Sadler says. After a more than three-year effort and planning, it is ultimately a leap of faith. — P.M.

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