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Allan Fingerhut – First Avenue's original owner – dies

He opened the nightclub in 1970 and owned it until 2004.

The original owner of Minneapolis' storied nightclub died Monday at age 76. 

Allan Fingerhut, an heir to the Fingerhut catalog retail fortune, is credited with bringing rock and roll to downtown Minneapolis with the nightclub that's now known as First Avenue. 

He died at his home in Northern California surrounded by family. His daughter Rain told the Star Tribune he had Lewy body dementia, noting he started showing signs of the disease in the past two months. 

The disease, which also afflicted comedian Robin Williams, is a progressive dementia that causes a decline in mental abilities, with people who have it sometimes experiencing visual hallucinations, rigid muscles, slow movement and tremors, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Fingerhut graduated from St. Louis Park High School in 1962 and went on to study art and photography in New York before joining the army during the Vietnam War, the Star Tribune said.

He made a name for himself outside the family business, starting in 1969 when he was 25, by coming up with the idea to open a rock club in the former Greyhound bus depot, First Avenue's website says

Fingerhut found a partner with a liquor license, invested $150,000 and on April 3, 1970, opened the only venue in downtown Minneapolis that had both rock music and alcohol, then called The Depot, the website notes. 

The Depot closed in 1971 after hosting musicians that included Ike Turner, Joe Cocker, B.B. King, the Kinks and Frank Zappa. It reopened the next year, with Uncle Sam's disco chain paying Fingerhut for use of the venue through 1979, Minnesota Good Age said.

When disco faded, the venue – called Sam's – morphed back into a place for rock 'n' roll, hosting acts like the Ramones, Pat Benatar, U2 and others. 

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In 1981, Prince first played at Sam's, where he found a home at the venue, which became First Avenue in 1982.

The next year, Prince filmed "Purple Rain" at the club, and in 1984, when the movie was released, it put First Avenue on the map, attracting fans from across the world.

Allan Fingerhut was involved with the club until 2004, First Avenue's website says. That year, he fired the two managers and then filed for bankruptcy following lawsuits with his longtime accountant and friend, Byron Frank (it reopened two weeks later, with the management team he let go at the helm and Frank as the primary owner).

One of those managers is Steve McClellan. In a statement to TPT, he said credited Allan Fingerhut for being the reason First Avenue is still open today, saying: 

"I, having worked the club in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when American Avents dumped the franchise and left it in a very perilous financial state found ALL of Allan’s advisers (present day ownership included) putting huge pressure on him to close the doors. Despite those efforts, Allan did NOT succumb to the pressure and allowed us to keep the place open during some VERY lean years. That single decision on his part allows me to state, with NO uncertainty, Allan Fingerhut can be named THE ONE PERSON to be given credit for the club being open to this day."

A memorial service will be held for Allan Fingerhut at the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis at 11 a.m. on Oct. 19. People can "attend" the service via Zoom here, TPT notes.

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