Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Soapbox Laundro-Lounge to close, ending 12 years of live sounds and suds

After a dozen years of sounds and suds—the soapy and the frothy kind—the Soapbox Laundro-Lounge, one of Wilmington’s most enduring live music venues, is shutting off the washing machines and closing its doors for good—at least at its current location at 255 N. Front St.

The historic Elks Temple Building at 255 N. Front St. has housed the Soapbox Laundro-Lounge since 2001. The live music venue, Laundromat and bar announced it will close July 28.

Billed as “Downtown Wilmington’s destination for laundry, live entertainment, coffee and more,” the Soapbox announced—in a letter posted Thursday on its Facebook page, which boasts more than 10,000 followers—that it will be shutting its doors July 28, citing financial difficulties and challenges related to the space it occupies in the hundred-year-old Elks Temple Building.

The closure would include the downstairs Nutt Street Comedy Room, which—like the Soapbox, according to the announcement—would pursue opportunities to continue in another location.

“Though this announcement implies a certain level of finality to the existence of The Soapbox LaundroLounge and Nutt Street Comedy Room, plans are being formulated and acted upon to ensure this is not an end-all occasion for either idea,” the letter states.

Signed by Soapbox owner Brent Watkins, the letter notes the venue’s success and place in the downtown Wilmington community. The venue’s three levels have hosted countless touring acts while also providing places to play for local up-and-comers.

Acts that have played the Soapbox include Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Donovan Frankenreiter and Wrightsville Beach-based metal outfit ASG, among many others.

Opened in 2001, the Soapbox started as a Laundromat-bar that specialized in all things suds—soap and beer—before live music was added to the mix. A stage was put between the washing machines and bar, and before long, the Soapbox expanded from the first-floor “Laundro-Lounge” to the third floor of the historic building.

Space was also made in the building’s underground level, which now houses the increasingly popular Nutt Street Comedy Room. A tattoo parlor currently occupies the second floor of the building.

“As a local institution, The Soapbox has fostered and encouraged the growth and development of a multitude of groups and individuals including musicians, visual artists, employees, and multiple generations of patrons, young and old,” Watkins writes in the letter.

“Over time, we have been witness to all facets of life in Wilmington. We’ve watched firsthand the forging of families, friendships, and lifelong connections congregating in a central location from all corners of the world. We’ve had the honor as a community hub of celebrating new lives, mourning those lost and helping those in need.

“My personal goal is to take all of the experiences, the acquired and cherished knowledge of the Wilmington community’s diversity, and the often-daunting intricacies that have been honed relating to the operation and ownership of a small business year after year, and look forward in an optimistic light,” Watkins writes.

“My partners and myself look forward to sharing the adventure with you yet again. In the time that passes between now and then, we will continue to be open to sound advice, financial partnerships, creative input, and steadfast encouragement.”

News of the Soapbox’s closure comes just days before the opening of the newest addition to the local music scene, Ziggy’s By the Sea, which is setting up shop in the building that housed The Brikhouse, at 208 Market St.

A second location of the Ziggy’s music venue in Winston-Salem, Ziggy’s By the Sea has already booked a schedule that includes such acts as Delbert McClinton, Leon Russell and Black Flag. The venue opens July 3, with Wilmington reggae act Selah Dubb headlining.

Other recent additions including the Brooklyn Arts Center and Greenfield Lake Amphitheater have added to the number of venues available to bands and performers wanting to play Wilmington.

The Elks Temple Building is currently listed for sale for $1.47 million. A property overview included with that listing states the building is currently fully rented at a rate of $11,000 a month.

Despite the sadness of closing up shop, Watkins says in the letter the Soapbox will go out the way it knows best: loudly.

“As The Soapbox has always been a home for great times,” the letter states, “we are planning for July to serve as a proper send off in honor of our past accomplishments. We are in the process of coordinating multiple events with friends old and new to help us celebrate.

“Many events will be added to our calendar in the following days and weeks so please stop in, say hello, share some memories, and celebrate the amazing times we’ve all had!”

The letter can be read in its entirety below:

Dearest Friends,

On behalf of myself and the other partners in the company, past and present, along with our tight knit family of dedicated employees, I am writing to inform you of unfortunate news. On July 28, 2013, The Soapbox LaundroLounge and Nutt Street Comedy Room will close its doors for business at 255 North Front Street in beautiful Downtown Wilmington. The Soapbox has had an overwhelming amount of success in many areas of business for more than a decade.

However, it has also faced its fair share of obstacles not uncommon to any small business. Among the hurdles that surpass day-to-day operations, one in particular that has proven to be extremely challenging to overcome has been the business relationship with the property The Soapbox occupies. For several years we have exhausted countless ways to make The Soapbox self sufficient within the Historic Elks Temple Building, all the while managing every component of the four story, 15,000+ sq ft property’s upkeep. It comes with heartfelt emotion that all reasonable and moral efforts put forth have yielded unsuccessful results.

The factors in this situation are numerous and date back to investments made during the height of the real estate bubble coupled by the subsequent economic downturn and eventual collapse of the second bank in North Carolina history. The reality has been that without a significant injection of outside capital for the purchase and much needed facilities improvements, The Soapbox cannot, going forward, continue to operate within its original confines. The last couple of years have proven to be particularly difficult and my family has sacrificed in multiple ways, all with hopes that a solution could have been reached.

Though this announcement implies a certain level of finality to the existence of The Soapbox LaundroLounge and Nutt Street Comedy Room, plans are being formulated and acted upon to ensure this is not an end-all occasion for either idea. These difficult obstacles that have arisen over time speak nothing of the great success the business has had throughout the years.

As a local institution, The Soapbox has fostered and encouraged the growth and development of a multitude of groups and individuals including musicians, visual artists, employees, and multiple generations of patrons, young and old. Over time, we have been witness to all facets of life in Wilmington. We’ve watched first hand the forging of families, friendships, and lifelong connections congregating in a central location from all corners of the world. We’ve had the honor as a community hub, of celebrating new lives, mourning those lost and helping those in need. My personal goal is to take all of the experiences, the acquired and cherished knowledge of the Wilmington community’s diversity, and the often-daunting intricacies that have been honed relating to the operation and ownership of a small business year-afteryear, and look forward in an optimistic light.

My partners and myself look forward to sharing the adventure with you yet again. In the time that passes between now and then, we will continue to be open to sound advice, financial partnerships, creative input, and steadfast encouragement.

I would like to thank each and every one of you with the whole of my heart for your many years of support, partnership, patronage, and dedication to a small experiment with a quirky idea that grew exponentially and unexpectedly into an enormous and life-changing adventure for myself and many, many others. It is a comfort to me that the friendships and partnerships we’ve forged will go on in a collaborative fashion that signals a great future and limitless opportunities on the horizon.

Throughout the course of the next month, despite the sadness involved, we plan on ending this chapter of the business on a high note. As The Soapbox has always been a home for great times, we are planning for July to serve as a proper send off in honor of our past accomplishments. We are in the process of coordinating multiple events with friends old and new to help us celebrate. Many events will be added to our calendar in the following days and weeks so please stop in, say hello, share some memories, and celebrate the amazing times we’ve all had!

Sincerely,

Brent Watkins

The Soapbox Laundro-Lounge

Jonathan Spiers is a reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at (910) 772-6313 or jonathan.s@portcitydaily.com. On Twitter: @jrspiers

Related Articles