Infinity Room sees outpouring of support to keep comedy, live music going in Salem

The breaking point for Chris Pelka and Emma Jonas came when their payroll processed a day early. They didn’t have enough money in the bank to cover it.

The co-owners of Infinity Room, the downtown Salem comedy and live music venue that opened in 2022, normally see a large withdrawal Thursday mornings.

Making it work for the shoestring club sometimes means a midnight bank deposit of cash taken in from a Wednesday night show.

Neither one realized the Fourth of July holiday last week meant the money would come out of their bank account a day early. Employees still got paid on time — the outside company they use pays workers first and then bills the company — and they’ve since squared up with their payroll processor. But the precarity of their operation was a wakeup call.

The owners decided to seek community help, posting a fundraising plea on Facebook Tuesday evening. The message was dire: without $5,000 in the next week, the venue would be in danger of closing.

“Our hope for the last year has been to make this place profitable. And we’ve made really great strides in that,” Pelka said in an interview. “This whole thing is so frustrating because it has felt like we were on the precipice… for the last three or four months.”

Infinity Room is challenged by a mix of factors, some persistent and some new, the pair said.

Summer is a slow season for comedy clubs and live entertainment venues as more people seek entertainment outdoors and travel.

The pair also continue to run into issues that predate their ownership but require money to fix. Their immediate fundraising plea resulted from an unexpected tax bill and a city inspection that found the hood in their kitchen wasn’t permitted correctly. Having it reinstalled by a contractor cost $1,500.

“We are reaching out to you with a heartfelt plea to help preserve a vital cultural hub in our city: Infinity Room. This vibrant, homegrown venue has been a cornerstone of our community, bringing joy and laughter through comedy, music, improv, and drag performances,” the owners wrote in a post on their website.

Pelka, a musician, and Jonas, a standup comic and improv performer, each work upwards of 60 hours a week unpaid to keep Infinity Room afloat. They’re passionate about providing a space for live entertainment in Salem, and being a venue that pays performers well and offers a good experience.

The venue formed at the start of the Covid pandemic as a merger of two former Salem entertainment offerings — Capital City Theater, a comedy club that used to occupy their space on Southeast Liberty Street, and Space Concert Club, a music venue with a vegan kitchen.

They opened for live shows in 2022 and put on multiple events most weekends, with a July lineup including standup comedy about everything from teaching to dentistry and a show of local metal bands.

Both said they have projects they’d like to work on that would bring in money, like expanding Infinity Room’s improv class offerings. But the precarity of their operations make it hard to grow.

“It’s something that is often falling to the wayside because just having to deal with all these things that are actively on fire,” Jonas said.

“Everything to make it better costs money,” Pelka said.

In less than a day, the owners exceeded their goal, with $5,275 raised as of 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Since launching the fundraiser, “I’ve been just on the verge of tears. I’m just so grateful,” Jonas said.

The owners said they appreciate donations, but they’re also heartened to see ticket sales increase as a result of the plea. Presales help them plan so they can staff shows and give performers an idea of what to expect — and tickets are cheaper online in advance.

“The donations are great, the money is great, but more than that I would just like people to come to shows,” Pelka said. “A lot of people say things like, ‘We really need a music venue,’ or ‘We really need a comedy venue’…There is one, this is what we do. So get in here.”

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.