Local bands find a quiet space to practice in Allentown storage facility
Hundreds of bands have perfected their art - or just jammed out - on the first couple floors of the ABC Self Storage space in Allentown as people’s couches, chotskies and other stuff sat idle in the storage lockers above.
“This was just kind of a side thing, and it took off,” manager Dan Split says.
Small garage bands to big-time names like Anti-Flag and members of Rusted Root have practiced in the 24-hour access, custom-sized rooms on the first and second floors of the ABC building. Rooms start at $130/month for a three-piece band and go up to $300/month for rooms that can accommodate larger bands.
“Being it’s an old warehouse, it’s got very thick walls… You can crank up your amps at four in the morning if you want,” Mr. Split says. “Basically, it’s freedom to come and go as you please. There’s a lot of other rehearsal rooms that have time limits and you have to share.”
Climbing up Arlington Avenue as the city skyline shrinks in the distance, a tall tan- and blue-brick warehouse with glass-block windows appears on the left at the crest of the hill. Today, orange and blue signs advertising the company’s name and open rental space hang over the old painted signs for the old Mosebach Electric Supply company warehouse. Owner Mike Barry bought the place in 1996 and turned it into one-half of his rental business – the other is ABC-EZ commercial dumpster rental in McKees Rocks. Mr. Split’s own band Krush sparked the idea of renting space to musicians.
“I was in a band at the time and there were some spots available,” Mr. Split says. “I thought ‘Hey can I rent this from you to practice ‘cause no one is around to complain [about noise]?’”
Mr. Barry agreed and told Mr. Split to ask around to see if others could use the space too.
“He was a teenager working for my moving company, and he kept getting thrown out of garages and other places,” Mr. Barry says. “When I bought this building, he kind of begged me to put something together for him.”
They soon became overwhelmed, Mr. Split says. An ad in the old Rock ‘n Roll Reporter magazine put the space at full capacity.
“A lot of times we’d end up with a waiting list. We’d be waiting for a band to break up and move out,” Mr. Split says.
Russ Tompkins and his bandmates of the local heavy instrumental ensemble band Solarburn has used the facility for six years.
“Our guitar player practiced there with previous bands, so he was already privy to the facility when we had gotten together,” Mr. Tompkins says. “The advantages are that it’s pretty centrally located to any part of the city, about 10 minutes away from everywhere, the prices are fair, the rooms are sizable for the money, and my big thing was repair. Anytime we needed anything, Dan [Split] or Mike [Barry] would be there. We have 24/7 access to the building too. It doesn’t matter what time you get home from work, you can find time to practice.”
Mr. Tompkins says another aspect is the social opportunities that the practice space offers. With so many local bands playing in one location, connections are bound to be made.
“Actually there are a lot of bands that end up sharing shows because of the social interaction,” Mr. Tompkins says. “You’re bound to run into somebody there, practicing at the same time, loading or unloading their gear. The parking lot is a big social area.”
Currently 30 bands practice at the Allentown location and about the same number practice at the McKees Rocks location. Right now, there are no available spaces for new musicians, and the company has no plans to expand. Eager customers will just need to wait for a band to break up.
“I see it just staying the way it is. Bands rotate in and out,” Mr. Barry says. “There are wannabe bands, there are bands that have been with us for several years, and there are bands that last a month.”