The band New Old Stock prepares for a performance in the Reed Underground on Friday, July 15. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)
Earlier this year, drywall concealed the brick walls that have held up Salem’s Reed Opera House for a century and a half.
The old brick is now part of the backdrop for live performances in the building’s newly renovated “underground” space.
A few businesses have been operating on the basement floor since the renovated opera house opened to the public this past fall, rebranded as “The Reed.” But the underground’s “soft opening” brings new life to the space, which made its debut as an entertainment venue last Friday.
The first show Friday was a performance by the band New Old Stock, followed by a standup comedy show Saturday titled Soul of Wit, which featured several local comedians.
Property director Jodie Vaughn said the space is intended to spotlight diverse artists as well as play host to holiday celebrations and a variety of other events.
Vaughn said she is still planning for recurring free events Salemites can expect at least monthly in the Reed Underground, rotating primarily between music and comedy.
A flight of stairs leading to The Reed Underground on Friday, July 15. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)
Before California-based investor Cumberland Holdings bought the historic opera house in 2018, the underground space was dark and confusing to navigate, said Principal Scott Chernoff, who has led the building’s renovation.
“It was not the most appealing place for people to do business, and so the first thing we did was open it all up,” he said.
Instead of painting over the walls or adding wallpaper, he said they demolished a portion of the walls to see what was behind it. They found 150-year-old brick and stacked stone — now visible throughout the hallways and shops in the underground space.
“We’re celebrating that as opposed to hiding it,” Chernoff said.
Over the next year and a half, he said they will be adding artifacts, pictures and newspaper articles for people to learn about the history of Salem, the building and people who have spoken there, such as Susan B. Anthony as well as past presidents.
Cyrus Adams Reed, who built the historic opera house, had a contract with the state to build a space for the Oregon State Legislature, the State Supreme Court and the State library, The Reed’s website said. Officials didn’t comply with the agreement, so Reed asked architect G.W. Rhodes to build seven shops, an opera house and a hotel in the building from 1869 to 1870. When Reed built the 1,500 seat theater, Salem’s population was around 1,139 people.
There’s no stage in the underground space, but behind a black curtain sits a media wall with screens and speakers to accompany live performances, display presentations or show Sunday Night Football.
The underground space can also be booked for private events. “If you’re wanting to have salsa dancing or trivia night or a company dinner, we can do all of that,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn said the underground space will soon get two new restaurants, Tiny Soup as well as a pizza spot that’s to be determined.
The space currently includes tattoo shop Zoulbound, Lashes By Chelsea and Quantum Light, which offers metaphysical crystals, yoga, meditation and retail. Also in the building are coffee shop Caffé Capri, plant shop Sun Bear Den, clothing store 503 Unwind, Capitol Apothecary and Dipped Temptations, which sells dipped strawberry treats.
The building is about 95% leased, Chernoff said. He expects most if not all renovations to be done by mid-2023.
Salemites have been getting haircuts in The Reed’s basement for nearly eight years.
It was Big Derrick’s Barbershop for six years before Barbers Underground took over in 2020. Bailey Scott, who has worked there about three years, said the renovations downstairs have brought them more foot traffic than ever before.
“The businesses that are moving into this space are really great businesses, they draw a lot of attention,” she said. “I think when all is said and done, it’s just going to be beautiful.”
Barbers Underground has been in the historic Reed Opera House building since 2020. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)
Chernoff hopes The Reed becomes a one-stop shop for the Salem community.
“We’re very excited to have a project where we have so many different businesses ranging from restaurants to retail, personal services, to creative office, to our ballroom, to our coffee shop and a convenience store,” he said. “We want to be the place where people — when they think of downtown Salem, they can come and feel comfortable there and get what they need.”
Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.
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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.