For Les McCurdy, the worst part of moving his business is almost over — though a lot of work remains before he reaches that point.
To prepare for next week’s opening of the new location of McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre and Humor Institute, the owner had to wrangle with city regulations and construction issues. There’s still a list of jobs to tackle: painting the building, putting up a sign and installing phones, lights, speakers and monitors. It’s a headache endemic to opening a new business anywhere, but that provides little solace to McCurdy with the June 11 opening day drawing nearer.
“Without a doubt, no matter how meticulous you are in your planning, there will be issues,” McCurdy said. “There always are.”
And, yet, about a month from now, he’s confident that headache will have been worth it. For McCurdy, the new location offers an opportunity that the old theater on Sarasota’s North Trail did not.
“Growth,” McCurdy said. “In one word, growth.”
In opening the new theater, located at 1923 Ringling Blvd., McCurdy believes he’s found a new world less than three miles from the previous location. He’s been seeking to move from a strip mall in North Sarasota for nearly two years now, but had been eying potential buildings along Fruitville Road or University Parkway to better serve the Bradenton population the business draws.
Instead, the downtown location presented an opportunity he couldn’t resist. The building, formerly occupied by Shaner’s Pizzeria, has been vacant since last year. Property owner Mark Kauffman said he’s been trying to recruit McCurdy’s as a tenant for a decade, calling the business an important asset for the entire area.
“I think it’s very significant — both for the building and downtown — to have him there,” Kauffman said. “We didn’t want to lose him within the confines of the city.”
Based on the feedback from his clientele, McCurdy thinks he’s made the right choice.
“People have said, ‘It couldn’t have been a more perfect location,’” McCurdy said. “And it couldn’t have been.”
McCurdy has already teamed up with his neighbors. He’s serving as the president of the recently formed East End Association, which represents businesses near the eastern end of Main Street. Together, they want to establish that side of downtown as a more vibrant entertainment district. Beyond that, McCurdy is hoping to link to the rest of downtown, too.
“I think downtown, it’s too segmented,” McCurdy said. “We encourage people to move all through this area and explore it.”
Although the theater itself will remain the same size, McCurdy still views it as a growth opportunity. With a larger footprint, patrons will have more room — including the “public green room,” where people can gather before and after a show to have a drink or meet with the performers. McCurdy also wants the business to expand its focus beyond comedy by renting out theater space for seminars and meetings.
Already, he’s received interest from nearby businesses — a stark contrast from the previous venue.
“The North Trail location was never appropriate for most people who do that type of thing,” McCurdy said. “The downtown location is perfect for it.”
One point of frustration for McCurdy is perhaps unique to his industry: getting approval for the marquee sign advertising upcoming performances.
He was surprised to learn that city regulations didn’t allow for an internally lighted sign — particularly considering that he saw several similar signs in the vicinity of his business. When he was informed that the code had changed and those signs were grandfathered in, he decided to attempt to install an LED sign.
That option came with its own difficulties. Although he was allowed to put up an LED sign, it had to remain static. McCurdy was again miffed, because he had seen several establishments with animated signs. Again, the difference came down to code complexities: the signs weren’t allowed in the downtown zone, but governmental zones had different regulations.
“Because of the uniqueness of those facilities, (governmental) zoning has less stringent requirements and standards,” said Planning and Development General Manager Gretchen Schneider.
McCurdy pointed to the LED board outside of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, which serves the same purpose as his desired sign. If they could advertise upcoming shows that way, he asked, why couldn’t he?
“As a taxpayer, I helped pay for that sign,” McCurdy said. “I helped pay for the very sign that I can’t have.”
McCurdy said he was hoping to see more consistency and commonsense across the board when it came to codes. Still, he said, that sort of frustration was universal to opening a business in any area.
“Every community has that type of stuff that sometimes seems inconsistent or unfair to do,” McCurdy said.
With a pre-opening fundraising event scheduled for Monday, McCurdy is feeling a time crunch. For him and his wife, Pam, it’s a throwback to their college theater days. He told her to think about the days leading up to the opening of a play, when everyone involved with the production was certain they weren’t ready.
Miraculously, he said, they always opened on time and opened well. He’s confident that will be the case for McCurdy’s, too.
“That’s just the way it happens with the arts,” McCurdy said. “You just know it’ll work out.”
Even when the new location opens, McCurdy will still be working on improving the facility. He’s hoping to have everything in place by July, when former SNL star Darrell Hammond is scheduled to perform. After that show, and after spending six or eight weeks of running the Ringling theater, McCurdy will be able to appreciate the significance of the move — and focus on continuing to grow.
“That’s when Pam and I can start to get excited, because now we’re like, ‘We’re rooted in,’” McCurdy said. “Everything’s starting to click and we can build for the future.”
If You Go
McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre pre-grand opening charity fundraiser
What: The fundraiser will benefit the American Cancer Society. Entertainment includes performances by local musicians and Black Diamond Burlesque.
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Monday, June 9
Where: McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, 1923 Ringling Blvd.
Cost: $50. Tickets are available at mccurdyscomedy.com
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