‘Save Our Stages:’ Brooklyn business owners fight for funding for independent venues

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer with Brooklyn venue owners and other stakeholders calling for the passage of the Save Our Stages Act over the summer.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office

Near all of New York City’s independent venues are in threat of permanent closure amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, warned U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer on Tuesday outside of Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg, where he vowed to fight for the Save Our Stages Act — a proposed measure that would offer grants to live venue operators, producers, promoters, and more to address the economic effects of COVID-19.

“Independent venues were among the first to close at the start of the pandemic and they’re going to be among the last to reopen, so we have to make sure they get funding,” Schumer said. “Ninety percent of independent venues will have to close permanently without federal funding — and that would be a disaster for the artistic, energetic life that we have all had in Brooklyn, in New York City and in so many parts of the country.”

Independent music venues like bars, concert halls, and Broadway theaters have been among the hardest-hit businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, and have been closed since the onset of the virus in mid-March — with little hope for a quick return, as live events have yet to be included in any of New York’s planned reopening phases.

The economic toll has been particularly “insurmountable” for venues like Baby’s All Right, Schumer said, whose owners have pivoted to virtual performances with no immediate plans for reopening for in-person events.

And Baby’s All Right isn’t alone, said Reverend Moose, executive director of the newly-formed National Independent Venue Association.

“NIVA didn’t even exist in March,” he told the gathered crowd on Tuesday, “but as venues and comedy clubs were the first to close, we were in a prime position to witness the brutal effects of being shuttered by state and local mandates early on. These locally owned businesses that have worked so hard over the years to create spaces that artists and fans love were closed with no warning and no timeline for reopening.”

The association now consists of 2,700 members representing local venues across the country. Tuesday, the group stood to show their full support of the Save Our Stages Act.

“Having no revenue, enormous overhead and being omitted from existing government programs is an extinction level event for any business,” Moose said. “These businesses are owned by individuals, families and members of their own community — not publicly traded, multi-national companies with access to Wall Street lines of credit or shareholders to prop them up. We have come together to ask for the assistance we so desperately need.”

If passed into law, the Save Our Stages Act — introduced into the senate by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobouchar and Texas Republican John Coryn — would provide six months of financial support to “keep venues afloat, pay employees and preserve a critical economic sector for communities across America.” 

The act — which has seen bipartisan support from lawmakers and big name support from musicians like the Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga, Led Zeppelin, and more — would ensure that relief funds only go to small, independent venue operators, promoters, and talent reps. Unlike some other coronavirus-related government programs, the Save Our Stages grants would be “flexible” — meaning they could be used to cover an array of costs related to the pandemic, such as rent, utilities, and personal protective equipment.

It would also allow for future “supplemental grants,” as needed, and could also play a pivotal part in helping New York City bounce back from this unprecedented year, Schumer said Tuesday.

“We are here today because all of us believe that independent venues are vital,” Schumer said. “Probably no group has been hurt more by COVID than independent venues. That’s because people who come to these venues, they’re close. They touch, they dance — and they can’t do that during COVID. [But at the same time,] there’s no revenue coming into these places and rents still have to be paid, contracts that people have, they still have to be honored.”

Schumer was joined at the presser by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Co-owner and Music Director of Baby’s All Right Billy Jones, Brooklyn-based artist Sean McVerry, Grace Blake of Iridium, Co-founder of The Stand NYC Paul Italia, and Co-owner and CFO of Elsewhere Dhruv Chopra.

Murphy, too, pleaded for the passage of the Save Our Stages Act, likening independent music venues like Baby’s All Right to “communities in themselves.”

“They fill in the gaps and communities string up around them,” he said, stressing that the “diversity of American music” is built on the foundation of independent music venues. “All these things are grown by local people at local venues.”