“I’d like to have the bands play in the tent,” said Niya Gingerich, owner of Local 46 at 46th and Tennyson Street. Gingerich and other venue owners are trying to adapt to a world of social distancing and limited indoor entertainment. Two things she thinks can help her succeed are her bar’s outdoor Biergarten as well as a parking lot that could theoretically turn into space for guests instead of cars — two things many venues don’t have. These two assets are most helpful if she can extend her cabaret license to include more shows outside. Having canceled all indoor shows through the rest of 2020, she’s hoping to sell assigned table seating outside, which would let households and other groups sit together while keeping space from strangers — an odd concept for many music fans who are accustomed to packed rooms.
“It was live music indoors, five nights a week. Musicians were waiting up to a year for a spot” before the shutdown, Gingerich said. While her license allows for 10 days of “special events” outside, she’s hoping the city will speed up allowing businesses to use more outdoor space continually.
Josh Mulroney, a promoter who books bands at local venues including Tennyson’s Tap at the other end of the Tennyson cultural district, said different venues are all looking for different ways to open back up. He’s concerned smaller venues may not survive if they can’t meaningfully reopen in the near future. He says while some landlords have delayed payments, the bills pile up and are waiting for owners when they reopen. “You don’t have to pay it right now but it doesn’t go away,” said Mulroney.
Live music venues generally have large spaces which means higher rent in an increasingly expensive city.
Mulroney said the bands are being hit hard too. “People are doubtful, they are anxious, and there’s a lot of anxiety,” explaining that bands often get paid based on the size of the crowd they can bring in. As venues reopen, their capacity will be severely limited, and there’s still a question about whether the fans will be comfortable coming back right away. He said venues he’s talked with will be requiring customers to wear masks and are taking other precautions.
North Denver’s largest private venue, the Oriental Theater, started looking for alternative revenue streams as soon as the city and state closed businesses. “One of the first things we did was come up with specialized merch we could sell,” said Scott Happel, the Oriental’s General Manager and a partner in the business. They quickly sold out of t-shirts that joked the venue was closed due to “toilet paper shortage.” They sold passes for future shows. They raised enough to give their hourly staff some pay, and they waited. They were able to receive a federal PPP loan but, as with other venues, they knew that they needed revenue — not just loans and deferments.
The largest potential revenue stream is a project The Oriental staff launched at the start of June: paid content through OnlyFans.com, an online service that connects content producers and fans, who can see exclusive content for a subscription. Happel said The Oriental is bringing out some big names, including Nathan Maxwell from the Irish punk band Flogging Molly. Happel hopes fans of The Oriental will enjoy some of the same artists they would see at the venue at home, entertaining would-be concert goers and bringing revenue into the business until they can reopen.
Over on the 3600 block of Navajo, The Bug Theatre also sits empty. The Bug’s usual line up includes a mix of live performances, lectures, and local independent theater screenings. As a nonprofit venue, they have been trying to tap into alternative resources. “It has been really nice to see so many grant options from places like Colorado Creative Industries, the SCFD and other local granting organizations,” said Deb Flomberg-Rollins, Marketing Director for the Bug Theatre. “In addition, we have shirt sales and gift cards available for those looking to help us out. Plus, we have done one weekend curb-side concession sale, where patrons were able to place orders for concessions and pick them up to take home.”
Regarding reopening, Flomberg-Rollins said they are closely following city and state guidelines. “Ideally, we’ll be able to open with social distancing procedures in place,” said Flomberg-Rollins. “We know that will be at partial capacity, but part of what makes The Bug such a special place is the people that visit us. We want to be able to be that place again for our community, as soon as it is safe to do so.” Before then, The Bug is hoping North Denver residents who value the venue will step up to make sure they reach their reopening date. “It feels like a lot to ask right now, considering everything else going on, but financially is what kind of support we need the most.”
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