'Safe place' wanted for kids in Brattleboro

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BRATTLEBORO >> After negotiations for one location on Putney Road fell through, Chris Antoniello isn't giving up on his hopes to open an all-ages club, free of alcohol and drugs.

He says the place would serve as an area where kids can go to be themselves and not be judged.

"I have some potential locations," said Antoniello, who owns Harmony Underground in Brattleboro.

Some may believe there's a conflict of interest with his owning the local head shop. But it's there, he said, where he continues to meet parents looking for a safe place for their kids to hang out.

"All-age clubs is something I've done all my life," he said, noting success he saw when he ran such a venture in Westfield, Mass. "An owner of a Subway (restaurant) had a bar that had been closed for years and years. One day, I asked if I could start doing things down there to make some money."

In the first couple months, Antoniello said the club saw 10 to 15 kids coming to hang out. After three or four years, 150 kids were coming each of the three to five nights the club was open. Bands performed live on some nights while DJs would come spin tunes on others.

"Kids loved it. It was a comfortable atmosphere," said Antoniello.

He would like to see that recreated in Brattleboro, where he envisions offering pool tables, food, drinks, games, television and couches on a daily basis. On weekends, live music would be scheduled.

Having run Harmony Underground for five years, he's met 12 to 13 year-olds who come in with their parents.

"They love the atmosphere that was created at the head shop," he said. "But it's inappropriate."

Antoniello said he wants to offer the community a place for those kids to gather without worrying about "the huge drug problem we have in Brattleboro."

"Heroin and crack is out of control here," he said while mentioning his best friend's 11-year-old daughter being eyed by older men in the streets.

Antoniello previously volunteered with Angel Boy Art Inc. serving as the nonprofit's events coordinator. Through that work, he said he got to be pretty known in the area for his assistance with kids with special needs.

The local Boys and Girls Club is sufficient for younger kids but Antoniello said the older kids start getting made fun of when they go there. At the age of 14, many may stop going as a result.

Antoniello recently appeared on a radio program talking about his idea for the club and said he received anonymous $1,000 donation for the efforts.

"Every parent I've spoken to is on board," he said. "I have an army of 20 to 30 parents and 30 to 50 kids waiting for a location."

The idea is to not only run a club but to offer the space to schools and other groups for dances and other functions. Kids could come from Bellows Falls and other states too, such as the neighboring Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

"I've thought about it for years but never had the courage to pull the trigger. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to afford it. I thought I'd harm my family by investing money I didn't have in a project I was not 100 percent sure would have the support," said Antoniello. "I'm doing this in Brattleboro. I don't care how long it takes me to find a place. It's the town that needs it the most."

As Antoniello and his wife Christine seek a location, they are raising money for the project. They are also looking for bands, DJs and anyone who wants to help make this a reality. Antoniello can be reached at vermontchris17@gmail.com or 203-725-7267.

"I want this to happen sooner than later," Antoniello added. "Vermont is an amazing community. After the flooding, people came together amazingly. It was incredible to see. I know people can do this for the kids in town. Everyone wants their kids to be safe. This is something that one person can do well but this is something a community can do amazingly well."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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