H. Stanley Liddell
2001 Liddell Award Honoree
January 1, 2001
When Stan Liddell was presented with the first Special Whammy for his contributions to Fort Wayne’s music scene – an award which now bears his name – there were already many reasons to appreciate his ample impact on northeast Indiana. Aside from what his entertainment complex Piere’s has brought to the city, whatzup publisher Doug Driscoll credits Liddell for the continued existence of whatzup, given the amount of advertising and content Piere’s provided in the paper’s early days.
With Liddell’s passing in early 2013, those left behind to carry on his legacy know they have big shoes to fill, but the memories they have explain how and why Stan Liddell came to be a bigger-than-life figure in Fort Wayne.
“It really began as a business opportunity,” says Sandy Golden, who came to work at Piere’s in April 1990. “When he first bought the property it had a grocery store and a bunch of vending booths in there. But when they widened St. Joe Road, the construction made it difficult for the shopping center, and a lot of the vendors closed. It was then he decided to make it a destination point instead of a shopping mall.”
Taking part in those early plans was Tish Liddell, the second of Liddell’s three daughters and the one who lived and worked with him most closely as the mall was becoming Piere’s.
“I sat in, and gave input in design meets,” she recalls, “in architect and construction company meets, and physically helped him build everything and every aspect of the complex from the ground up.” Later, she adds, “My eldest sister Buff started and ran Picasso's, our banquet facility, for 15 years, as well. My mother Sandy Liddell worked with my sister Buffy at that time, as well, as her assistant.”
Liddell’s interest and understanding of architecture and a business savvy developed when he worked with his father at Auburn Cord helped him realize his idea of building a place where people would come. Before she was employed by Piere’s, Golden saw it developing.
“It started with Brubaker’s, and I would go there myself sometimes and would see Piere’s being built. Stan wanted it to be a destination, not just a bar. The average life expectancy of a bar is about two years, and he wanted Piere’s to be around a long time so he knew it had to be something different than just a bar. He thought bringing in national acts would help keep it alive.”
In those early years, Piere’s played host to classic rock bands, bringing in large audiences on weekdays to see well-known acts while playing host to a house band who brought in those looking for a dance club on the weekends. That formula helped build Piere’s success, giving it a reputation as a prominent area concert venue, but the entertainment center – which came to include a variety of clubs surrounding the Piere’s main room – was about to go to the next level with the arrival of Bret Sanders in September 1996.
“When I came in Piere’s had been bringing in these older bands, and we started to move toward some really cutting edge performers,” says Sanders, who served as the vice-president of media and marketing during this 11 year tenure. “We started bringing in a lot of the younger bands and younger audiences, and we developed a pretty diverse demographic. People not only in Fort Wayne but from miles around would come just to see a show. We’d have classic rock, hip hop, swing, country…we even had an Elvis tribute thing. We’d hear about people coming from as far away as Chicago or Green Bay to see a show at Piere’s.”
Sanders remembers that Liddell’s keen insight into business and people came from being well-read.
“Stan was a voracious reader. He was a diverse guy, and I really appreciated how well-read he was. And he had a great interest in architecture from having come from New York City. He could always see what the possibilities could be in a piece of property.”
It was that business challenge that motivated Liddell rather than any excitement over the bands his club was booking.
“Stan had a tin ear,” says Golden. “He didn’t care anything about the bands that were playing, and he wasn’t interested in meeting them. It was the challenge of making it work that interested him. He was driven to make Piere’s a viable place.”
“It was a mixture of things that interested him,” says Liddell’s son Herbie, who now runs Piere’s. “He liked the new business aspect of starting something, but really he was a people person. He just liked people. There was a table in the ticket office, and everyone knew that was ‘Stan’s table.’ He just liked to go in there to talk to the people who were coming in.”
Those who worked and lived with Liddell also note how much he loved marketing Piere’s, putting those people skills to work to find a formula that helped Piere’s to thrive. Golden, whose working relationship with Liddell became a personal one as well, says even their vacations were opportunities for him to check out what other clubs were doing.
“We were together 24/7, and he never stopped thinking about business. We’d go places for vacation, and Stan would want to see what other clubs were doing. He’d tell the owners about Piere’s, and he’d get them to give him tours of their places and copies of their menus. He always wanted to try new things and see what was working in other cities. One place down in Florida, I think it was Pleasure Island, had been an old movie theatre, and they had the big video screens up so that’s where the concept for Piere’s doing that came from. His wheels were always turning.”
Herbie Liddell says he experienced the same thing when traveling with his father.
“I remember once we went to Mexico with him, and we’d say ‘Can we go to the beach?’ and he’d tell us ‘No, we have to go to the bar.’ He was always thinking about work and how to make the place better.”
With Golden working with him and his kids nearby at all times (Herbie began working for his dad at 18), he was able to be both businessman and family man at the same time. That made for some fairly interesting experiences for Nicholas, his young son with Golden who is now 16.
“What I remember about when Godsmack came to play at Piere’s is that while the road crew was bringing in the equipment, Sully (Erna, the band’s lead singer) was playing with Nick. He was only about two at the time. He’s had a lot of experiences with these famous people that he doesn’t even remember because he was spending so much time there with Stan and me,” Golden remembers.
As Piere’s moves into a new era, and changes are being made to update this facility, Liddell’s legacy continues, and his son Herbie hopes he’d be happy with where the entertainment center he built is heading in the future.
“I would hope he’d like the changes, but the most important thing to him was customer service and making sure everyone had a good time. He would always tell me ‘They’re not here to please you. You’re here to please them.’”