Burning Down the House

Why House of Loom quit while it was ahead.


There we stood, champagne in hand, as the minutes ticked away on our last night in 2016 and our last night in House of Loom. The nightclub would be closing its doors to the public in the early hours of 2017.

House of Loom was stunning in its final hours, with its usual charming velvet couches, exposed brick and chandeliers. Additional twinkly lights draped in chiffon shimmered from the walls and hundreds of white balloons clung to the ceiling, restrained by a thin net. But the most beautiful sight to behold that night was the gathering of diverse individuals who had come together to honor and celebrate their last five years at the club.

Minutes before midnight, part-owner Ethan Bondelid took the mic as the crowd gathered to listen from the worn dancefloor.

“Loom’s future is uncertain right now,” he said. “But one thing that is certain is that all of these love connections that have happened here have nothing to do with these walls — you leave here tonight, and the love that you created in this space goes out to the world, and that is how Loom lives on!” The crowd cheered and sniffled.

Together we counted down to the arrival of 2017: “3…2…1…Happy New Year!” Balloons were released, money confetti rained down and a frenzy of champagne drinking, hugging, and balloon stomping ensued.

The night was filled with dancing, laughter and tears as people said their goodbyes to the place they loved so much. On the patio, patrons and employees alike shared stories of how much Loom had meant to them throughout the years.

I actually work 50 hours a week at an animal hospital,” said bartender Amy Hetzler. “I don’t need the money, but I want to be here — I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s more than a job; it’s a family.”

While the final night at House of Loom was momentous and full of love, it was not unlike a typical night at the venue. The nightclub opened its doors over five years ago, but its story began before that. I sat down with part-owner and co-creator Brent Crampton to learn more about what brought his vision to its bittersweet end.

Crampton began his career as a DJ in 2001, he said, at the age of 17. By late 2005 though, Crampton said he was experiencing a lack of meaning in the rave scene. He took some time out to go inward or, as he called it, “hibernate in the creative womb.”

At that time, he said, Crampton was also becoming immersed in the history of dance music. The DJ was discovering how house music emerged from disco, which was created and embraced by gay, black and Latino communities. Inspired by his newfound appreciation for late 1970’s New York dance culture in historic venues such as The Loft and Paradise Garage, Crampton said he emerged from his hiatus with an idea.

“Taking the model of what I studied of the early disco underground clubs, of the inclusive, openness, multicultural environment, I wanted to create an entirely new type of dance music experience in Omaha,” Crampton explained.

So he, with his friend Jay Kline, created Loom: a monthly pop-up dance party with an emphasis on culture and inclusivity. These gatherings went on steadily for five years. Then in September 2010, Ethan Bondelid approached Crampton and Kline with a proposal: he wanted to invest in giving Loom a brick-and-mortar space to call home. Crampton and Kline accepted the opportunity, and the three of them partnered to open House of Loom in July 2011.

Upon entering the building on the first day of the lease, he said, Crampton faced the common anxieties of a new business owner, questioning what he had gotten himself into.

Then, as Crampton told it, something happened that set his mind at ease. He received a call from his parents out of the blue. They happened to be downtown, so Crampton invited them to see his new place. After being in the space for a few moments, his mother looked at him and said, “This is where you came from.”

You see, Crampton was adopted from birth. On the day his parents chose to adopt him, they were on their way to brunch downtown when they saw a bumper sticker that read, “Expect a miracle, accept a miracle.” When they received a call that afternoon about the possibility of adopting Crampton, they pursued the adoption because they felt like that particular sticker was a sign. Crampton had heard this story all his life, but a detail that he didn’t learn until the first day of the House of Loom lease was that his parents were on their way to brunch at a restaurant that was in his exact location all those years ago.

What that meant to me was that I was born to do that,” he said. “It made me go, ‘No matter what happens, it’s going to work out.’”

But just because opening House of Loom seemed destined, did not mean it was easy. In the first six months of operation, the club nearly went bankrupt.

“We assumed we just open the doors and people come,” Crampton said. “We found that people only came when we had events happen.”

So they went into emergency mode and decided to host events every night of the week. To accomplish this, Crampton reached out to people in his network, took inspiration from events in other cities and identified subcultures in town with no place to gather. Once they began getting events in place and adjusted their craft cocktail program slightly to accommodate crowds, they were able find a sustainable way of operating.

Throughout the years, House of Loom continued to cultivate a safe and inclusive environment. They were the first nightclub in the city to incorporate safe-space practices and institute a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and assault.

“I think we created this really unique fusion of inclusiveness, creativity, open-mindedness,” Crampton said, “which gave permission to people to express themselves more fully.”

When House of Loom opened its doors in 2011, the club’s ownership group signed a five-year lease. As the end of the lease drew near, they had to come together and decide if they wanted to renew. Crampton began doing market research, and what he found did not make him eager to commit more time to the nightclub model. 

“When you survey Millennials and ask them about nightclubs, there is, in general, a negative view of them,” he explained. “This is not the time to be in this particular industry. Could we do it? Sure, I bet we could, but how much harder than we already are working will we have to work to achieve that?”

And so, the ownership group chose to follow the “Seinfeld Model” and quit while they were ahead, preserving the legacy of the club. Loom will likely return to a pop-up format, at a more irregular frequency than before.

Now that the House-of-Loom-era has ended, Crampton is retreating back into the creative womb to discern his next steps. This is the same womb from which Loom originally emerged, so I’d say this city has a lot to look forward to whenever Crampton’s ready to give birth to his next project.


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