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This article was published 15/3/2019 (711 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
No decision is ever final.
This is the motto of John Scoles, owner, president (and janitor) of Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club, and it’s a phrase he’s been using a lot in the past couple of years as the 136-year-old space has gone through slow, but major, renovations.
The Times Change(d) is on the main floor of the Fortune Building on the corner of Main Street and St. Mary Avenue, a beauty of a building built in 1882-83 that was nearly demolished to make way for a hotel, but instead was granted a heritage designation in 2016. It was sold to city businessman John Pollard, who wanted to return the building — along with the McDonald Building next door and the Winnipeg Hotel further down Main Street — to its former glory.
When first discussing the massive project, Pollard and Scoles decided the best tactic would be to do everything else on the other floors first and save the bulk of the Times Change(d) reno for the final leg in order to keep the music venue open during construction. They were successful — Times Change(d) has only been closed for one weekend due to construction — but the flipside to that timeline is things are taking longer to get done than they had hoped.
"We’ve achieved stuff in little increments, which has helped with my clientele who, even though the place is called Times Change(d) and it’s in perpetual flux and it’s always changing, for them it’s always the same. Or the increments are such that they are manageable and they feel like they kind of own those changes," says Scoles, who has been running the venue for 20 years.
"There’s been a lot of circumstance that works out of the good nature of the ‘hard-drinking booze can for the sensitive soft man’ attitude that we have here that has enabled this project to work so well."
"They’re putting new clothes on but the spirit remains the same, and I don’t think that will change." ‐ J.D. Edwards
" And now the end result of that is we’re sitting here and it’s still not done. And it’ll never be done. Our motto here is, ‘No decision is ever final.’ And it’s about embracing the flow of all of this stuff," he says.
Now, they are in that final leg. The bar has already moved from the back of the main room to the side, the stage has nearly doubled in size and a new facade was put on the building, complete with beautiful vintage-inspired windows. Next up, the club’s closet-sized washrooms will be ripped out, new flooring will be put in the main room and in the new back room and new washroom spaces will be completed.
By the time things are said and done (which, if everything goes to schedule, should be in late April or early May), Scoles estimates the renovations will have doubled the square-footage of the space.
"I hope when we get this thing wrapped up is that we’ll get a 150 capacity compared to the 80 we’re at now. That’s not... it’s a very community-oriented number in that we’re not trying to immediately compete with 300-capacity places. I just want to be able to get people in here on the busy nights when people want to get in, and I want it to feel, when it’s a slower night, that it still feels full and cosy," says Scoles.
Part of the trick of this particular project was doing enough work to make the building safer and more functional while at the same time retaining the gruff, honky-tonk blues bar feel Times Change(d) regulars have come to know and love. So, though there have been many changes, much of the style of the interior remains almost identical to what it was before; the same posters and sassy signs line the walls, the same sombreros and other interesting artifacts will lend the space colour and some new additions will build on the vibe the venue already has going for it.
One such addition is a pool table owned by building namesake Mark Fortune, which had been quietly residing in Deer Lodge Centre for around 100 years. The table went up for auction, and Scoles’ brother-in-law convinced him to put in a bid. He won, and so the Times Change(d) will be the table’s new home.
Another new piece of decor is a "crappy-looking" Boler-style trailer Scoles bought on Kijiji. The plan as of now is to turn it into an indoor food truck of sorts; nothing will actually be cooked in it, but it will be used for serving and will house different pop-up ideas Scoles has, such as a cocktail station or taco bar or whatever else his imagination cooks up.
"Quick reminder: you are all good people with good taste in music." ‐ John Scoles
"So do I have an indoor backyard? Or a back room? I don’t know what I have, but you know, I’m not sure I ever knew what I had," he says with a laugh.
The care Scoles and his crew have taken to keep the Times Change(d) feeling like the Times Change(d) has not gone unnoticed.
"I love that they’ve redone the outside and are bringing back the old façade. They’re changing it, but it’s not really any different. They’re sort of bringing it back to life, but the soul of that place is not going to change," says local singer-songwriter and Times Change(d) regular, J.D. Edwards.
"They’re putting new clothes on but the spirit remains the same, and I don’t think that will change."
Edwards has spent many a night on the Times Change(d) stage, as part of his eponymous band or other planned (and unplanned) collaborations. He even hosted his wedding reception after-party at the venue, which was soundtracked by Scoles’ band, the Perpetrators. Edwards’ love of the room runs deep and is rooted in the idea the Times Change(d) is a music venue first and a bar second.
"I see the Times Change(d) as a venue that has a little bar, I don’t see it as a bar that has a stage. I feel like that place it really exists because of the music," says Edwards
"I love playing there because the people who go there are there to swim in that world of music, to be around artists and to support music and to love music. Not everyone who goes there drinks, not everyone goes there to socialize necessarily, they go to enjoy the music. And you could go to the Times Change(d) and not know who’s playing, but still want to go there knowing that John and the people who run that place are going to be putting on the best music they can find."
"If you don’t have a sense of humour, if you don’t have a creative outlook on life, then don’t come. Just don’t come. Because I don’t want a place where it’s a loud bar full of people who just want to hear themselves talk and who aren’t interested in the music." ‐ John Scoles
Edwards is right; the Times has always been about the music. It is a safe place for talent and fans from any walk of life to set up shop and bond over their love of melodies, lyrics and sonic expression. It’s a space where one-night-only musical moments are created and lifetime memories are made.
And the expansion opens the door for Scoles to book even bigger acts the venue previously couldn’t handle before, such as the Sadies, who Scoles says will be playing Times Change(d) in July for the first time.
But the Times is also about having a sense of humour. When Scoles took over the space almost 20 years ago, the other floating name he had in mind was the Times Change(d) Lost and Lonesome Highway Chicken Shack Bar, Grill and Dance.
"Look, if you don’t have a sense of humour, if you don’t have a creative outlook on life, then don’t come. Just don’t come. Because I don’t want a place where it’s a loud bar full of people who just want to hear themselves talk and who aren’t interested in the music.
"You can go to a pub or whatever, there’s lots of places for that, but in this context, I want a customer that almost shouldn’t be in a bar, because that’s how I’ve always felt myself. Like the same idea as the motto we say at the beginning of the night, ‘Quick reminder: you are all good people with good taste in music.’ The reason why we’re saying that is it’s a mantra, say it over and over and it shall be so. You will all be good people with excellent taste in music.
"It’s clever, it’s nice, it makes them feel good, it also, ideally, makes them nice people. So, that’s the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club."
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Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.