PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Entertainment venues were the first to close after the COVID-19 outbreak and they will be the last to reopen. Now the question is, how long can these facilities survive?
“Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa, those are our local heroes here in Pittsburgh and we aren’t going to have a place to grow and enable in the future,” said Liz Berlin who owns Mr. Smalls Theater in Millvale.
Berlin describes her business as a true “mom and pop” with her husband running it alongside her. The struggle since the coronavirus shutdown is the lack of funding help available to independent venues and promoters.
“It’s like we are stuck in jello taking out loans just to buy us time. Not even to create anything, but just to survive until who knows when,” Berlin said.
It’s not just the physical spaces, but the promoters and actual artists that are unsure of the future.
“We have a deep, very integrated system of people that could be pushed out of the city if the industry doesn’t survive,” said Lauren Goshinski, who’s an independent promoter in Pittsburgh.
“If our stages go, nobody is going to have a place to go,” said Adam Valen with Drusky Entertainment.
With social distancing restrictions, these businesses are finding it hard to operate when their sole job is based on drawing a crowd.
“We are only able to operate at one-fourth of our capacity and we just can’t put on a show and even break even. We’d lose money on every show,” said Carol Shrieve, who’s the Executive Director at Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall.
Now dozens of people and businesses from Pittsburgh are joining the National Independent Venue Association to push for Congress to provide federal funding by passing the RESTART Act.
The RESTART Act, introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate in May, would provide funding for the hardest hit industries, but allow flexibility on how the funds are spent.
“It’s less about payroll, but letting venues stay open with the use of funds by helping keep the lights on,” Valen said.
If the bill passed, the funding could last for up to six months.
“The PPP loan was supposed to be an eight week bridge gap, and we could be closed for 72 weeks or even longer. We’d need a PPP every two months at that point,” said Brian Drusky who is the President of Drusky Entertainment.
The bill has already gained support from some local lawmakers like U.S. Representative Mike Kelly.
“Building on the success of the PPP program, the RESTART Act will help the hardest hit small businesses and nonprofits keep their doors open and ensure more Americans can get back to work. Providing greater flexibility and longer-term loans will assist more job creators survive this pandemic and resume normal business operations. It’s a win-win for our economy, U.S. small businesses and American workers,” Kelly told KDKA.
The business owners told KDKA this funding option looks toward the future and could be a solution to their survival.
National projections show it could be another 12 to 18 months before these venues can operate at full capacity, so they are asking for the community’s support.
NIVA created a webpage called saveourstages.com that allows people to send information directly to their local lawmakers in support of the RESTART Act.
“Put a good word in, talk about your first date at your favorite venue or a sentimental concert, make it personal. We could really use the support and help,” said Berlin.
You can also find a full list of the local companies and venues that joined NIVA as well as the national members.