‘Barely a pulse.’ Charlotte music venues seek city funding to help survive COVID

‘Barely a pulse.’ Charlotte music venues seek city funding to help survive COVID
‘Barely a pulse.’ Charlotte music venues seek city funding to help survive COVID (Source: Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte’s music venue owners say they are at a breaking point as their businesses have been closed for nearly six months because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper moved the state into Phase 2.5 reopening, which includes opening of gyms, bowling alleys and museums, effective at 5 p.m. Friday. However, bars, nightclubs and indoor entertainment facilities were not included in Cooper’s latest order.

“To keep the music system alive, we’re going to need life support,” said Joe Kuhlmann, owner of The Evening Muse. Even if the venues could open with 25 people, the current indoor gathering limit, he said it wouldn’t be enough to survive.

The Charlotte Independent Venue Alliance said in a news release Wednesday that City Council needs to begin allocating millions of dollars available through federal funding “to avoid a complete collapse.

“The breaking point has arrived,” the group said. “If Charlotte music venues don’t get the support they need soon, there won’t be any left by the time this pandemic is over.”

But city spokesman Cory Burkarth said there is help available for small businesses, which includes music venues. The city has begun distributing $30 million in federal CARES Act funding to small businesses as part of it’s Open for Business Access to Capital Small Business Recovery program.

The program includes small business that has already received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program or other sources, according to the city.

“We understand the concern of all businesses large and small,” Burkarth said, “and we’re trying to support small business owners and small business employees because they’re also our residents, they’re also our taxpayers and community and we are working hard, we’re working diligently to take care of our people here in the city.”

Without local and state government financial support, Kuhlmann said, it’s not a matter if these businesses will close but when.

“We’re looking for all the independent venues to be funded,” he said. “It’s getting to be dire.”

The Evening Muse, shown during an open mic night, is part of Charlotte Indendent Venue Alliance seeking funding support from the city and state as music venues remain closed amid the coronavirus. James Willamor/Flickr FILE PHOTO

VENUES SEEK HELP

The Charlotte alliance, originally formed to share safe reopening guidelines, is comprised of 13 venues: Amos’ Southend, The Evening Muse, Free Range Brewing, MaxxMusic, Middle C Jazz, Neighborhood Theatre, Petra’s, Skylark Social Club, Snug Harbor, The Tipsy Burro, The Thirsty Beaver, Tommy’s Pub and The Visulite.

It’s part of the National Independent Venue Association that represents more than 2,400 members nationwide.

The Evening Muse is one of 13 music venues that makes up the Charlotte Independent Venue Alliance. The group is seeking financial relief since such entertainment remain closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Will “Saxman” Smith plays the saxophone during a show in this file photo at the Evening Muse. Soulejukebox Entertainment Group FILE PHOTO

“While restaurants can offer takeout and breweries have opened patios, music venues are stuck with their doors closed and a mountain of bills for mortgages and rent, utilities, taxes, insurance and staff,” the groups said in their release.

Ric Peterson, general manager for Skylark Social Club in Plaza Midwood, said most of the music venues in Charlotte have “hit a code red.”

The Charlotte venues say the community has supported them through Go Fund Me donations, buying merchandise and local artists playing live-stream social media events. They’ve also supported efforts to tell Congress to help through Save Our Stages Act and RESTART Act, but say it isn’t soon enough.

The alliance this week launched a “Save Charlotte Stages” petition. As of Wednesday afternoon there were about 5,000 signatures.

Kuhlmann said the alliance hopes to make a presentation at the next city council meeting. And he said the local group also is working with other venues across North Carolina to seek help at the state level.

TRYING TO SURVIVE

Middle C Jazz in uptown was able to reopen with limited capacity in mid-June as a restaurant, but co-owner Larry Farber said he understands many venues haven’t been able to open.

“I look at this as what’s best for live music in Charlotte, because the more venues, we all are better off when we succeed,” Farber said. “We’re able to be open now but we barely have a pulse.”

He said the city might be able help these businesses through subsidies or possibly other breaks.

“They have an obligation to help keep us here with whatever tools they have in their tool bucket,” Farber said. “We need help and if we don’t get it, it will hurt this city for years to come.

“We don’t want that to go away. It’s part of our culture. We need them all.”

He’d like to see the city support the small businesses as much as it does attracting large corporations.

“We’re trying to attract these great businesses (and) having places like ours are critical,” Farber said. “We need to look at who we have now and the value that they bring.”

COMPETING FOR MONEY

Burkarth, the city spokesman, said there have been two rounds of recovery grant applications. Small businesses with less than 25 employees headquartered in Charlotte could apply for $10,000 or $25,000, depending on the number of employees. The last application deadline was Sunday.

According to the city’s website, the program has so far distributed $8 million to 753 small businesses throughout Charlotte during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The Foundation For The Carolinas serves as the administrator for the grant.

Peterson, with Skylark Social Club, said he received a $10,000 grant from the program but it is running out as rent and other bills come due. He doesn’t expect to be able to fully reopen with live music until next year.

Most economic relief, like grants, means individual venues apply for them in competition with other small businesses.

“There isn’t anything directly for businesses with live events,” Peterson said.

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