Stephan Nieweler jingled his keys, unlocked the front door and went upstairs at 751 View St., the upstairs portion of Hermann’s Jazz Club.
Inside, the walls were red with arched entryways that led to cavernous rooms and halls, still ringing with the music played in the space over three decades. Now, the music staple is for sale.
In 1986 Nieweler’s father, Hermann Nieweler, bought the property after working five years in the hotel industry down the road. One night, while running the Bastion Inn on Government Street, Hermann had a jazz crew inquire if they could get a good deal for rooms. Hermann agreed to provide them rooms if he could get a cut of the show’s sales. The show was such a success that Hermann, who had emigrated from Germany as a carpenter with no training in jazz, turned his attention to music.
He bought the property at 751-753 View St., and transformed the downstairs into Hermann’s Jazz Club, and the upstairs into a live music venue that has also been a night club for several decades. The upstairs portion carried most of the weight for sales.
“The jazz club was never really run for pure profit,” Stephan said. “It became more of a passion.”
In 2015 Hermann passed away, leaving the businesses to his three children, Stephan, Edward Nieweler and Ingrid Reid. The three had grown up between the jazz club and their home in Vancouver.
“I didn’t love jazz growing up,” Stephan said. “I listened to different music than my dad.”
After taking over, however, Stephan came to realize how important the venue is for the Victoria community.
“I’ve grown to appreciate it beyond the music,” he said. “People come here and it’s like their living room.”
Stephan has worked around the world, and makes an effort to always check out local jazz clubs where he visits.
“You have no idea how many times I’ve sat down and talked with musicians only to hear them say ‘oh Hermann’s, that’s where it all started for me.’,” Stephan said. “I’ll be in Manhattan and they’re talking about this little space in Victoria.”
Big names like Diana Krall and Nelly Furtado were just some of the Canadian icons who first performed on the downstairs stage in their earlier days.
Despite the nostalgia and the wide-spread love of the club, the Nieweler children have hit road bumps in deciding what to do with the business. There were disagreements about whether to sell the place, as well as a struggle for the three individuals, who haven’t run a jazz club and have their own careers, to keep the business afloat.
In 2018, Stephan said he was certain the business would shut down until the Jazz on View Society, now the Arts on View Society, stepped forward and offered to manage the space. In 2019, the Society secured $100,000 to help renovate and run the business, and signed a five-year lease with the owners to manage the space. The Victoria Jazz Society has also helped run events upstairs.
“That’s what’s special about Victoria, and that’s what my dad always said: people care.”
With business in more secure hands, the Niewelers decided it was time to sell.
“Some kind of resolution is a relief. You can’t have an estate process go on, it’s energy consuming and difficult,but obviously there are memories of my dad are here,” Stephan said “Seeing the wonderful legacy that he left behind… that can be hard, but at the end of the day you have to make rational decision on what needs to be done.”
The building is listed at $4.5 million, and the Niewelers hope that the right person comes along with the intent to keep the entertainment going, though it’s uncertain if that will be the case. For now, however, the five-year lease assures that music at Hermann’s will keep ringing for the near future.
Even though he will no longer have a hands-on link to the club, Stephan hopes to continue coming in and sitting at the back just to enjoy the shows, this time without worrying about the business. He hopes that in the future he’ll still be able to participate in some events, and encourage young musicians to continue with their practice.
“That was something my dad always wanted for young musicians,” he said. “For them to ‘do good things and stay out of trouble.’”