OGDEN -- At least one victim of the housing crisis is bouncing back by opening The Paris Cafe, a romantically named but unfinished-looking hole-in-the-wall that Ernie McKown hopes will be Ogden's latest non-alcoholic night spot.
It all started, he said, because it got too depressing painting homes from which people had been evicted. It was also depressing that the pay wasn't very good.
"We'd been in construction. I owned my own business," he said as he sat at a scuffed table in his cafe, located at 329 24th St.
"Cafe" might be a tad grandiose at this stage. The walls' sole decoration recently was taped-up leaflets of past band performances. Two pool tables take up a large part of the floor, two electronic dart boards stand against the wall. The kitchen is a refrigerator and some coffee machines. A bandstand fills one section of floor.
The floor, walls, and ceiling are all rough, unfinished, unpainted and chipped, as befits a cafe opened up on a $600 investment. McKown said he mostly begged and borrowed the furnishings.
"All the other bars and clubs around here have been very supportive," he said. "You need to come by and see it at night when the lights are on." He meant the stage lights and laser show lights, which shine down when the band is playing and people are around.
In daylight, the place is a work in progress, but he feels the club will work because it fills a need.
He looked around and said he could see that central Ogden has a lot of bars, but not much else.
"You walk half a block in any direction in downtown, you're going to run into a bar," he said. "If you're not old enough, or just not interested in alcohol, what do you do?"
His solution to that problem began with the housing bubble, which bloomed into late 2007 and provided thousands of jobs for anyone who could wield a paint brush or swing a hammer.
McKown and his partner did custom house painting.
"I had built up my business, my ex-wife and I, and I took in Don (Donald Archibald, his partner) and we were doing million-dollar homes.
"When the housing boom popped," he saw it at once.
From working in expensive homes "it ticked down to investment properties, and then evictions," and finally got to where people were trying to bargain him down on the price of painting a door.
"And we couldn't support our families," he said. "It wasn't just we that were hurting, our customers were hurting as well, and in some situations we weren't breaking minimum wage."
At that point, he and Archibald pondered.
McKown, 36, said he's a student of history, including the Great Depression. What that taught him, he said, is that "you always need a place to live, you always need something to eat, and there's always a need for entertainment.
"That's one thing that's never failed: entertainment."
A club for young people, the Basement, used to be in the same location, but moved to Wall Avenue. Another, Mojo's, is on Washington Boulevard and 22nd Street.
So McKown and Archibald approached the owners of The Copper Club, which just opened in a space where the Lighthouse Lounge used to be. They own the entire building, which also used to house the Berthana Dance Hall, and McKown said they liked the idea of a club without alcohol next door as a complement to their bar. They cut McKown a deal on the rent, and on Dec. 3 he opened.
The Paris Cafe is mostly just a hangout, McKown said. It features local bands, ranging from punk to techno to Gothic and reggae. He charges a cover that is split with the band.
That and food and beverage sales are how he hopes to make his money.
"Half the point behind this is we wanted a place for kids not old enough for bars, to have as much of a nightlife experience as possible without the spirits."
Some nights they have a live band, some nights a disc jockey. They are open 5 p.m. to midnight every night except Sunday and Tuesday.
A place that doesn't sell alcohol actually has marketing advantages for bands, he said.
"A lot of our bands that come through, they play in the bars, but they want to be able to reach out to their fans," who are often too young to go to bars.
But younger fans, he said "are the people you're going to want to sell your CDs and T-shirts to."
He remembers his own band-playing days, when he'd try to sell a CD "and some guy would say he'd like to but he just spent his last $5 on a pitcher of beer."
If someone over 21 wants a beer at the Paris Cafe, he said, it's easy. "We say go there ... " and pointed next door to the Copper Club, "and we'll call you when your band comes up."