In March of 2009, Blue Jackalope owner Scott Smith was about to call it quits and close his store.
The grocery had been open less than a year but already Smith was seeing signs of futility and fiscal implausibility. On top of operating his business, he was working another full-time job to cover monetary needs amounting to an almost 100-hour workweek.
But local patrons would not stand for the store's closure.
Neighborhood musicians that lived nearby on Olympia Ave. organized a benefit concert to prevent the store's demise. Several bands agreed to play and dozens of people from the neighborhood came out to show their support.
"I felt so much love," Smith said. "Music saved me."
Besides cementing the store's presence in the west Tulsa neighborhood, the event flipped a music switch in the community. Bands and independent booking agents began approaching Blue Jackalope, 306 S. Phoenix Ave., as a venue, contacting Smith about future music performances.
"It wasn't on purpose," Smith said, but the grocery store and coffee shop incidentally became one of the only places in Tulsa to put on free, all-ages shows of punk, metal, folk, hip-hop and indie rock.
Smith diplomatically keeps an open-door policy for bands interested in performing at the store. He does not ask for music samples or how big of a crowd the band can guarantee. He simply offers his space to those who request it as his schedule permits.
His ethos provides a unique outlet for young bands in the area with few other options. Hosting these types of shows places Smith on an unusual forefront of up-and-coming talent in Tulsa.
"One band I really liked watching develop was [the now defunct] 2 Plus 2 on the Moon," he said. Smith also mentioned Benjamin Lyman as an artist that he was able to watch progress through several genres experimenting and searching for his artistic voice.
At first, Smith was hesitant and even anxious to have a handful of youths thrashing about to loud music in his place of business. He quickly learned to relax, though, he said, as everyone was respectful, wanted to have a good time and appreciated the ability to do so.
However, the music could not be contained in the 900-plus square feet of the store and soon spilled onto Phoenix Ave. During the summer of 2009, the Blue Jackalope -- along with the community garden across the street -- blocked off Phoenix Ave. and held what Smith called a 'series of farm potlucks' on the block. Attendees were encouraged to bring a dish of their own creation and enjoy the outdoors alongside the sounds of Ptiaradactyl, Paul Benjaman Band or Jesse Aycock, among others.
The most recent potluck was held in June. More than 300 people attended throughout the day, Smith said. He anticipates another similar gathering sometime in the fall.
Music at the Blue Jackalope is not always an intense or outdoor affair, however. Initiated in the summer of 2009, the store has been hosting a casual jazz brunch of sorts every Sunday morning.
In July 2009, a group of church musicians led by Ken Ackley needed a new place to rehearse for their congregation. Smith welcomed the suggestion of using Blue Jackalope. The rehearsals have since morphed into a laid back morning of coffee, conversation and familiar standards.
Visiting the Blue Jackalope one recent Sunday I found a rag tag band of musicians ranging between the ages of almost 20-something to early retirement. A dog and cat lazily wondered about the painted cement floor, while the group passed out songbooks and began to comfortably find their way through "Fly Me to the Moon" led by two banjos and accompanied by snare drum, bass guitar and the acoustic playing of Ackley.
The main space of the store was spliced by two repurposed pews serving as benches (the building used to be a church) and a long table hosting a group of regulars chatting, sipping coffee and flipping through the morning paper.
It was an unusual environment for music because it was not the most important thing in the room -- as in a normal concert setting -- but it was entirely necessary for the mood of the morning.
Community gossip or the front page of the paper was given just as much attention as the songs performed. The relaxed environment blurred lines between spectator and performer as onlookers played tambourine or joined in singing along, during the gospel song "I'll Fly Away" in particular.
The group played through a Western Swing version of "The Sheik of Araby" and a lazy version of "Summer Time" as a melodica player and upright bass player joined the morning's musical congregation.
It's no wonder friends of Smith refer to the Blue Jackalope as a 'community center that sells groceries.' The space also offers a movie night and yoga classes. Smith even hosted a wedding in the space and catered for the event.
The groom and bride asked Smith to conduct the ceremony as well and directed him to a website of the Universal Life Church where he could be licensed to perform the wedding.
"Five minutes (on the website), and I'm a minister," he said.
It's pretty amazing how many different activities and services Smith is able to pull out of his workspace. A resident of the Crosbie Heights neighborhood since 1997, he has watched it change and develop over the years, and Blue Jackalope is his way to contribute to the neighborhood.
"I could put in more shelves (in the store)," he said referring to expanding the grocery options that he stocks. "But I would lose the ability to be convertible, which is important to me."
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