‘Save our Stages’: Music venues push for additional funding as closures continue

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At Haw River Ballroom, event posters still hang inside the empty venue space. 

Owner Heather LaGarde said Thursday she can’t bring herself to take them down, even though the shows were all canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would say March 6 was our last big show,” she said.

Since then, venues have applied for funding through programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, but say restrictions on the loans make them difficult to use.

“We need longer-term loans, different kind of structures of forgiveness, ability to be able to use PPP money without like a cap or a minimum on what it’s spent on in your venue,” LaGarde explained. “We can’t really have employees because we have no work for employees, which has already been very heartbreaking.”

LaGarde is part of the National Independent Venue Association, a group of venue owners pushing for more federal funding under the RESTART Act.

The bill provides a paycheck protection loan recipient with 16 weeks to use such funds if the business owner has less than 500 full-time employees, and suffered a decline in revenue of at least 25 percent.

Richard Emmett, a co-owner of The Ramkat in Winston-Salem, said they are thankful for community support while the space is closed, but additional funding will help them make up for significant losses.

“Maybe some relief on refund money, ticket fees that we would pay in terms of if people buy tickets and they’re refunded, we still owe the ticket vendor,” he explained.

Venue owners aren’t sure when they will be able to put on shows again, and what capacity will look like when they do open.

“Even if we are able to reopen, will we have to have 25 percent capacity or social distancing? Our venue is a 1,000 cap venue, and we survive by having bigger shows to help make up for some of the smaller shows,” Emmett said.

According to a survey by NIVA, 90 percent of venue owners say they may close permanently without federal help.

LaGarde says that would mean losses for surrounding communities.

“The music industry is a driver for a lot of other economic viable spaces around us; the restaurants and bars and hotels and tourism generally,” she said. “We see it both as a an emotional thing we want to provide and have happen again, but also as an economic driver that we don’t wanna lose in the United States.”

You can find NIVA’s letter to legislators here.

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