T he Space—the rare all-ages concert stage that can attract national acts, and even rarer for being in the middle of Connecticut—just sort of happened.
The venue, which serves food and non-alcoholic beverages, occupies the center of an industrial lot off Treadwell Avenue in Hamden. The much-glitzier The Outer Space and Spaceland Ballroom (pictured above during a recent concert by country roots band The Honeycutters), sister performance rooms that opened in 2011 and 2012, respectively, are situated in the same lot. Together, they’ve transformed the premises, from a place serving mostly private and quiet needs—industrial storage and the like—into a unified gathering spot where people can catch a wild variety of music.
Though this small entertainment empire might seem like the culmination of a 10-year plan, it’s more like a 10-year accident. The Outer Space may boast of having more than 80 kinds of beer for sale, but that’s not what caused the Space’s owner, New Haven native Steve Rodgers, to stumble into the whole thing.
In 2003, shortly before the official The Space came to be, Rodgers found himself back in Connecticut after touring the country with Mighty Purple, the notable band he and his brother Johnny formed in high school. The Rodgers brothers had made use of a warehouse in Hamden since 1993, very close to where The Space stands today. They stored Mighty Purple’s gear there between tours, and it was even Steve’s residence from time to time. The band also occasionally rehearsed there, which proved the room’s potential as a DIY music venue. Steve connected the dots and began hosting an open mic there each Monday.
Every venue, even an unofficial one, needs a name, and at some point this one became known as The Space.
Sometimes the original The Space didn’t have enough, well, space. For Mighty Purple’s bassist’s 21st birthday, the bandmates threw a bash with 12 kegs of beer and 12 musical acts. 500 people showed up. “Three weeks later, we still had people camping outside,” Steve says. “They didn’t want to leave.”
As The Space was taking off, Rodgers got some deflating news. His warehouse had a new landlord who wouldn’t let loud music or outdoor squatters slide. Steve received an eviction notice in the mail.
“I walked across the street and was going to take a walk through the woods and collect my thoughts,” Steve recalls. Before he could channel Thoreau, though, something caught his eye: a “For Rent” sign.
That was on a Friday; by Monday, Rodgers had signed the lease. At that night’s final open mic in the old warehouse, he informed the crowd of the move and, in true DIY fashion, asked for donations to make the rent. The crowd gave generously, and they cobbled enough together.
The Space had gone legitimate. Sort of. There were still permits to get, and, much like with the original warehouse, Rodgers had no formal plan. A few weeks into it, a friend who had experience in bookkeeping pulled the owner aside.
“She said, ‘You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?’” Rodgers remembers. He confirmed her suspicion and she gave him a crash course in business procedure. “I learned more than I ever thought I’d care to learn about running a business in the first year,” he says.
Things evolved organically. Word spread of a new venue in an underserved touring corridor. Eventually, notable up-and-coming acts that weren’t quite ready for Toad’s Place began contacting Rodgers to book shows there. The Space in some ways filled the vacuum left behind by the demise of the Tune Inn, a popular indie rock haunt in the New Haven’s Ninth Square that closed in 2002.
In 2011, Rodgers noticed a decline in attendance. He chalked it up to the fact that The Space is alcohol-free. Friends and staff urged him to consider adding bar service there, but Rodgers was hesitant, then adamant.
“I was like ‘I can’t do it,’” he says. “It’s vital for a space to exist—for all ages—that doesn’t have alcohol and is a safe space.” So he looked into getting some new real estate where drinkers’ needs could be readily fulfilled. That led to The Outer Space, which took over a building across the lot and is premised on being a great place to find and drink uncommon beers. There’s even a “30 in 30 Club,” which requires trying “30 different beers…within any 30-day period” as the website puts it, offering various perks for those who achieve the feat.
In 2012, another building in the lot became available. Given the success of the second venture, Rodgers asked his landlord for a third lease. The new room was bigger, however, and the costs were daunting. True to his roots, Rodgers called on the community, but with a lot more technological infrastructure this time. He launched a campaign through crowd-funding website Kickstarter and amassed nearly $12,000 by the end of it. Spaceland Ballroom opened a few months later and now hosts mostly nationally touring acts.
What’s next for The Space and friends? It turns out Rodgers is trying for non-profit status. His music venues are already nurturing the arts in Hamden and the Greater New Haven area, after all, and he’s thinking about using the space to offer courses in songwriting and recording geared towards local high schoolers, who Rodgers feels don’t have enough options when it comes to arts education.
Whatever happens, Rodgers seems well-equipped to handle it now. A three-venue complex with food, alcohol and national acts is a far cry from a warehouse that once doubled as a domicile.
with The Outer Space and Spaceland Ballroom
295 Treadwell St, Hamden (map)
The Space | The Outer Space | Spaceland Ballroom
Written and photographed by Jake Goldman.