SILVER CREEK – Sometimes a promise between a man and his wife leads to a long-lasting commitment.
For Matt Bogosian and his wife, Karen, such a promise led to opening The Backline teen center 15 years ago. The couple believes that young people need a place to “hang out” and feel safe to express themselves.
The Bogosians have been married 18 years and were high school sweethearts before getting married at age 22. “We always wished we had someplace to go when we were teenagers, so we made a promise to each other that, if we had the chance, we would provide a place for teenagers,” Karen Bogosian said.
True to their word, they bought the old Geitner Theater and opened in September 1997 after a year of renovations.
The couple has taken off only one weekend since then – and it happened to be a year when Christmas and Christmas Eve fell on a Friday and Saturday.
When their children were small, they brought them down to The Backline in pajamas, while they supervised activities. Supervision and safety have been key to the center’s success, Matt Bogosian said.
“We pay attention. The kids get checked, and bags get checked, and they go past a metal detector. In 1997, it seemed liked overkill to some parents. But no one complains anymore … It makes everyone feel comfortable.”
The Bogosians get to know the kids, trying hard to remember names or give nicknames.
The Bogosians know a lot of people in town. Karen teaches yoga and exercise in The Backline during the week, and Matt has been on the Silver Creek School Board since 1999, serving as the immediate past board president and current vice president.
At The Backline, the Bogosians divide evenings into two age groups. Middle school-age students can attend Friday evenings, and teens age 13 and up are allowed Saturdays. Crowds can range from 50 to well over 100.
The Friday evening events include games – even an indoor nonviolent version of dodgeball – as well as music. Saturday nights, the club is a dance club with kids requesting the latest dance songs, including hip-hop and other popular music. There are snacks and a lounge area for visiting.
Parents often come in the lobby when they drop kids off, but Matt Bogosian said they are not allowed past the lobby. No adults are, with the exception of the center’s staff.
“Parents trust us with their children. We take that seriously. We don’t let any adults in,” he said. “When parents understand that, they appreciate it.”
The club has strict rules about behavior, and Matt and Karen Bogosian said there are few problems.
“The kids think of this as their club, and they respect it,” Matt Bogosian said.
The interior is mostly black. There is a DJ booth and a stage for live bands to perform. The sturdy floor, special lighting, stools and high tables give The Backline the feel of a nightclub.
The cost to enter is $6.
“I think it was $5 for the first five years, and we raised it once and really have not had to increase the price since,” Matt Bogosian said. He said there are teenagers who obviously come in with money from mom or dad, and then there are others who hand them change that they probably saved up to be able to get in.
Snacks including hot pizza, candy and popcorn are available for modest prices.
The Bogosian’s sons, Zak, 13 and Alex, 12, now help out at the center. The boys also occasionally perform in their own band, “Imortal.” They have followed in their father’s footsteps. Matt Bogosian toured and played with Leslie West and Mountain from 1992 to 1997. He was the bass player and road manager for the classic rock band.
Matt said he loved touring with the band but realized he could not be a “touring father,” and he left the group to settle down in Silver Creek, where he and Karen went to high school together.
His sons like the classic style just like their dad. “We can even play ‘Mississippi Queen,’” said Zak, talking about the famous hit from Mountain.
In addition to the exercise and yoga classes, The Backline is also rented for birthday parties and other gatherings. And the center had some recording equipment, and occasionally bands rent the space to record their music.
“Our families have been very supportive, too,” said Karen Bogosian. She said there were no “nay-sayers” when the young couple purchased the 1921-era theater and remodeled its interior to become a teen club.
“We cannot imagine our lives without it,” she said.
A long-ago promise between sweethearts led to something long-lasting.
“My wife and I resurrected a dream from high school,” said Matt Bogosian.