Anyone wanting to mix it up a bit when it comes to seeking entertainment in Billings has a new opportunity. Spend an evening at Kirk’s Grocery.
Even the name conveys the originality of this new venue. Kirk’s Grocery has nothing to do with groceries; it’s all about the off-beat of culture, art, music and theater in Billings. It’s called Kirk’s Grocery because that is the name imbued in brick above the doorway, and founder, Shane de Leon, says he couldn’t afford a new sign to give it a new name. But, somehow, Kirk’s Grocery works.
Even the location of Kirk’s Grocery at 2920 Minnesota Avenue seems to fit, situated as it is in one of the oldest and most historic parts of the city. Back in about 1907, Kirk’s Grocery was truly a grocery store serving citizens in the heart of early-day downtown Billings. Today it serves a completely different purpose but it is still reaching out to serve what Shane sees as a vital sector of Billings — artists and performers who don’t fit into the traditional niches.
Kirk’s Grocery is, in part, an art gallery with its turn-of-the –century high-ceiling walls sporting paintings and drawings by mostly local artists, but there are works from as far away as Germany and Italy. The art is eclectic and surprising. The open space within is also a venue for singers, musicians, song writers, story tellers, comedians, and other artists who want an opportunity to perform their unique work but don’t quite fit in with the more standard venues.
The artists have followers but not enough to fill up Pub Station or some of the other stages in the area.
Kirk’s Grocery gives the performers and their audiences a place to enjoy the talent, improvise, and to hang out and talk, Tuesday through Friday from 2 – 9 pm. It’s the kind of place that de Leon wishes were in Billings when he was a high school student seeking music that was out of the main stream and wanting to have an opportunity to play his own music.
de Leon left Billings to find that kind of opportunity and he has traveled the world since. After 40 years he returned to Billings with no intention of doing anything like this, but in discovering that there is still a lack of opportunity for young people who have different ideas and talents, de Leon decided it is a venture worth pursuing. Maybe some of the high school age kids won’t find it necessary to leave Billings to find what they seek. “If just four or five decide to stay, it will be worthwhile,” he said.
Kirk Grocery already has a following of high school kids who have discovered that here is a place where they can fit in. It’s a place to express themselves, display their art and talent, and be part of a creative community.
There is little structure to what might transpire, one event from another, one evening to the next. A schedule regarding the entertainment is posted at the door and on facebook. The admission is $5 or $10 or whatever the patron can afford – some can’t afford to pay anything and they are still welcome, said de Leon. But, it is only through admissions and the sale of art which includes items other than paintings, that support Kirk’s Grocery.
Kirk’s Grocery can be a theater, a place to hold meetings and gatherings of all kinds. deLeon said that he sees potential for catered events and will be focused on exploring possibilities as awareness and demand grows.
de Leon sees his venture fitting in with the “Better Off in Billings” program aimed at retaining and attracting young people to the community. He hopes it will help bring creative people to Billings who can help foster greater creativity, entertainment and enrichment.