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The Waiting Room amidst construction.
The Waiting Room in the midst of its remodel, looking from the stage to the front
of the room. Note entrance doors on the right side of the photo. Image by John Shartrand.

The Waiting Room: Bigger and Better

story by tim mcmahan


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Lazy-i: Jan. 21, 2010

The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St., will celebrate its reopening with a free concert Friday, Jan. 22.

Performers include Little Brazil, Little Black Stereo, Ground Tyrants and Kyle Harvey. Showtime is 9 p.m.

When you step into the newly remodeled Waiting Room at 6212 Maple St., the first thing you'll notice is the sheer openness of the room.
What once was a '70s-style low-ceilinged lounge that led into a broad (though smaller) open area with a stage is now one large, open area from the moment you step through the entranceway. The ceiling tiles have been removed, exposing rafters and gleaming silver ductwork. Incidental barrier walls are gone. Two rooms have become one. And it feels huge.
"It's more open than we thought it was going to be," said a proud, smiling Marc Leibowitz, who operates the Waiting Room with partner Jim Johnson, who was busy pulling wire atop a rolling scaffold.
The renovation project began literally moments after the bar closed Jan. 2. "We started boxing up liquor and glassware that night, and moved the coolers," Leibowitz said. The next morning, people began arriving with saws. Throughout the demolition, a team of about 15 employees and friends filled nine dumpsters with the Waiting Room's former interior, uncovering pieces of its history.
Among the discovered artifacts was a box of canceled checks from The Cornhusker Bar, one of the building's former identities. Leibowitz kept a couple of the checks, made out to Hamms and Storz breweries, dated 1964. The checks were found in a tiny office hidden in the ceiling above the bar. 
Crews also found three or four layers of old electrical wiring as they gutted to the wood flats of the roof. In the end, there were no surprises. "Overall, it went fast and we took care of any problems as they arose," Leibowitz said, adding that a lot of the less-visible work had been completed prior to Jan. 2, including upgrading the building's heating and cooling system and replacing the roof.
"This project is basically finishing up the club," he said. "These are things we wanted to do when we opened in '07, but it wasn't feasible and we hadn't explored the place enough. The old Waiting Room was great for us, but it was still two very separate rooms with distinct sounds in those rooms, and it didn't live up to the potential we saw."



Among the noticeable improvements:

  • The speakers have been removed from the stage and hung (or "flown") from the ceiling, with one new additional speaker added to each array.

  • A wall that divided the two rooms is gone, replaced with a wrought-iron railing, an area that Leibowitz said will now be one of the best seats in the house.

  • The soundboard has been moved from the north wall to the center of the room. New "tall tables" will be placed along that wall.

  • New triangle-truss lighting was installed a few months prior to the demolition, along with new "moving" lights, which will be controlled by a second lighting control board.

  • Coming in a couple months will be a new curtain that not only will cover the front of the stage, but the entire west wall of the club. "It's no longer going to seem like we just added a stage to the corner of the room," Leibowitz said.

On Monday afternoon, no fewer than eight people were busy painting, pulling wire and adding finishing touches. New carpet still needed to be installed, and the new speaker system was just being tested (loudly) for the first time. A lot still needed to be done before the grand reopening this Friday, Jan. 22.
Leibowitz said the project's tight timeframe was the biggest challenge. "We had booked a national touring band (NOMO) for this Saturday, so we have to be open," he said. "We'll be fine. Jim (Johnson) has been the general contractor. If we would have hired someone to do that, they would never have done it in this timeframe."
Leibowitz wouldn't say how much the remodel costs, but it represents a substantial investment not only in the building, but also in Benson.
"We're definitely in Benson for the long haul," said Leibowitz, who along with Johnson also runs music promotion company One Percent Productions out of offices located inside the Waiting Room building. "This will be our base of operations. We like the fact that we're here in Benson, in an old building with all the charm that comes with it."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Jan. 21, 2010. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Top photo by John Shartrand.




The Waiting Room being remodeled.
Marc Leibowitz walks where the old soundboard used to
be along the room's north wall. The stage is behind him.


"The old Waiting Room was great for us, but it was still two very separate rooms with distinct sounds in those rooms, and it didn't live up to the potential we saw."