Small Venues Still at Risk as COVID Cash Fails to Arrive
A representative of the organization formed to save small venues amid the coronavirus pandemic said “not a single penny” of government support has reached the struggling business owners up until last month. Most were still waiting for emergency funds they’d already been promised.
The Save Our Stages legislation was passed in December, securing $15 billion to help keep local businesses going during a period in which they couldn’t operate. But in a new interview with NME, Audrey Fix Schaefer of the National Independent Venue Association said very little of the cash arrived where it was needed. As a result, she claimed, 90 percent of small venues in the U.S. remained in trouble.
“We’ve all been without any revenue whatsoever since March 2020,” Schaefer said. “The bills keep on stacking up, the eviction notices are coming faster, people are feeling incredibly stressed and demoralized. ... We can’t reopen until we get that money. We can’t get our employees back or put deposits on bands. There are venues that aren’t permitted to reopen because their landlords won’t allow them to until they pay their back rent – which is only fair. This is business survival as difficult in 2021 as it was in 2020."
She added that "right now, independent venues are starting from a position of difficulty because they don’t have the resources of stockholders’ money or mass Wall Street lines of credit. … They’ve gone through all of their savings. So many of them have taken second mortgages on their homes, drained their retirement funds or have taken money from their kids’ college funds. They’re doing anything they can to hold on, but they didn’t think they would have to go through these hoops because the money was promised five months ago.”
The Small Business Administration shut its application mechanism five hours after it launched, citing technical difficulties. It reopened three weeks later, and more than 11,000 businesses filed applications – but Schaefer said “not a single penny was released” until May and that most applicants are still waiting.
“It’s not just the venue that is impacted by the shutdown, it’s everything around us," she explained. "There was a study out of Chicago that showed out of every dollar spent in a venue, there was $12 of activity in neighboring venues. Music’s a big part of tourism. If a venue goes under, then there will be a domino effect.”