On New Year's Eve 1997, the Musicians Exchange celebrated its grand reopening. Its owner, Don Cohen, has seen the place open and close a number of times since he started the Musicians Exchange some twenty years ago. His latest gambit was the New York Entertainment Cafe on North Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, and he'd scheduled an impressive lineup for 1998, beginning with Richie Havens, the Andy Summers Jazz Band, Coco Montoya, Tinsley Ellis, and Tab Benoit.

But by the time March rolled around, Cohen was busy trying to book those very artists into other clubs around town. The Musicians Exchange had once again shut its doors.

"I found out they don't really have a venue," fumes Cohen, referring to the New York Entertainment Cafe. "There's no one to talk to there, because the guy who ran the place has disappeared, the power is shut off, and he's unavailable to anyone."

The guy in question, according to Cohen, is a fellow named Ed Showalter. He's not well-known on the music scene, but the name will certainly ring a bell to anyone who's done business with Hollywood Trenz, Inc., the company Showalter founded in Fort Lauderdale ten years ago.

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In November 1994, Hollywood Trenz got the green light from a group of county commissioners in Denver, Colorado, to build a $14 million, six-story entertainment megaplex that would include "interactive laser-tag, virtual reality, and motion simulators." It never happened. After a year the Denver Post reported that "no earth has been overturned, but many questions have arisen," and it became apparent that Showalter had moved on. In July 1995, he was talking to people in Phoenix, Arizona, about building a 30,000-square-foot family entertainment center there.

But on Monday, March 11, 1997, Showalter was arrested in Phoenix on fraud charges and booked into a Maricopa County jail. The Arizona Republic newspaper reported that Showalter had written $82,000 in bad checks to contractors working on the entertainment center. Showalter posted a $72,000 bond and left jail. Then he left Arizona, violating his probation. Police arrested Showalter again in Pompano Beach and put him in an Orlando jail. But in mid-May he was released on $2000 bail.

It didn't take long for Showalter to get back to business. By the end of the year, he had become one of the operators of the New York Entertainment Cafe, a comedy club once known as the Comic Strip. Showalter approached Cohen with the idea to merge the comedy club with Musicians Exchange. Cohen, impressed by the venue's acoustics and 280-seat capacity, agreed.

What went wrong, exactly, Cohen won't say. He suspects that Showalter and his partners couldn't pay their rent and were evicted from the venue by the landlords. "I don't really know what their internal problems are, and I really don't care," he grumbles. "It's a pain in my butt, is what this is."

Those landlords aren't returning phone calls. At the New York Entertainment Cafe, neither Showalter nor the venue's vice president, Andrea Doner, are picking up the phone. The voice mail there is full.

And another live music venue in Broward has bitten the dust.

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