It's been no simple task finding the perfect spot to call home in St. Louis. There were certainly a few "must-haves" for Grossman, who opened the first Helium in Philadelphia in 2005.
"Safety, parking, a spot that is easy to get to from a lot of different areas — kind of a central location, let's call it," he says. "I felt like the Loop was too young. Parking was not great, and I couldn't really find a big enough spot." And though the Central West End was intriguing, space and parking issues once again ruled it out. The heart of the city was a non-starter as well.
"I just don't know what's happening downtown, so I didn't want to do it there," he explains.
When a basement room with an exterior entrance became available at the Galleria, Grossman pounced — though not without some initial reservations.
"There are a lot of clubs in malls across the country, and I've always been like, 'Wow, that's just not cool. I'm not doing that,'" he says. "But I feel like it was my best option, especially because you can come in off the street, walk in and walk down a flight of stairs into this really cool space. Where it is in the mall, you're going to walk in right next to a steak house, and yeah, you can see Restoration Hardware. But you're not walking in through Dillard's, you know? Or Sears, where you feel like, 'Oh, what am I doing?'
"Plus the fact that the Galleria sees over 20 million customers a year doesn't hurt either," he adds. "Foot traffic is a difficult thing to capitalize on, especially in a city that is particularly car dependent."
The main room will have a capacity near 275 people. A secondary room should hold 100. A restaurant is in the works down the line as well.
"I think there's a decent shot we will be open even for lunch, just because there's traffic in the mall," Grossman says. "It's just a question of if they will come down to us. We're hiring a chef probably in the next week, and then there will be a decision between the chef, the GM and myself what we want to do."
Grossman says he sees St. Louis as a city that shows a lot of promise, a place where the scene can continue to grow and become a hub for talent in the Midwest.
"We feel very strongly about getting into the ground floor and making sure that comedians are constantly developing. It's in our best interest for there to be more comedians and better comedians, in the long run," he explains. "I think of it like a baseball team. If you don't have a farm system, then you're going to wither away one day — just dry up, and then you won't have anything."
There are a lot of reasons why a new club will be an asset to the comedy community, but there are certainly some who fear it will come in and take over. After all, the majority of comedy happening in St. Louis right now is at bars, music venues and coffee shops.
"We're definitely not looking to stop anyone's independent local nights," Grossman says. "There's definitely a place for that stuff. We don't look at that as competition; we just look at it as more ways for people to get stage time."
And for the local comics out there, there's no need to worry about being banned if you work other clubs. There are no blackout dates, either. Grossman expresses contempt for both practices.
"I think that's short-sighted and stupid," he says. "It's not good for anybody. How is it hurting you if someone that works for you works at another club? It's not hurting you. Nobody's coming to see your middle act except maybe the guy with family members. They're coming to see the headliner."
On that front, Helium is kicking its first few months off in a big way: Grossman had planned to kick things off in a big way, with a December 17 show featuring LA-based funnyman Josh Wolf. However, construction delays have pushed that back. Now, come January, the legendary Dave Attell should be performing for a full weekend if the space is ready in time. A new grand opening date had yet to be announced at press time.
Grossman hopes his club will be a haven for comedy — one that will bring world-class acts that may have otherwise skipped over this Midwestern town — and function as a part of the team, not against it.
"If we do it right and we're smart, we can get the word out around the mall," he says. "Whether it's with signage or just word-of-mouth, the employees, whatever it is.... I think we've got a really good opportunity to knock it out of the park."