Independent venues face bleak future without aid

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The inside of xBk, Tobi Parks' music venue in Des Moines, Iowa
The inside of xBk, Tobi Parks' music venue in Des Moines, Iowa. Without help, hers and thousands of other small, independent spaces across the country are at risk of closing. (Tobi Parks)
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Packing into a small, dimly lit room while you and a few hundred strangers dance and listen to your favorite artists is one of the many small joys we've been missing for months. For many of those spaces and their fans, that experience could be gone forever if a new piece of legislation called the Restart Act doesn't pass Congress before it goes on recess in August.

That's according to Audrey Fix Schaefer, spokesperson for the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). It's a group made of nearly 2,000 indie venues across the country that has been lobbying for federal support.

"We did a survey of NIVA members a couple months ago and found out 90% of them — 90 — said that if the shutdowns lasted six months or more with no federal help, they would never be open again," says Schaefer.

While many businesses are suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are some challenges that put small music venues in a particularly tough spot.

"You can't serve live music takeout, so we've had zero revenue since March 11," says Tobi Parks.

Parks owns xBk, a performing arts space in Des Moines, Iowa. It's an intimate spot inside an old horse barn that she completely renovated, paying special attention to the acoustics. It holds 250 people, max. If Parks did decide to open, she'd only be able to accommodate 54 customers. Considering the cost of reopening, the math doesn't work out for Parks. And then there's the question of consumer confidence.

"To say the words 'being in an intimate indoor space' these days — that's terrifying," says Parks.

Spaces like hers are also reliant on touring artists. So even if there were a magic cure for the coronavirus tomorrow, venues still have to wait for acts and booking agents to get tours rolling — a process that can take months.

Parks got some money from the Paycheck Protection Program, but because of the rules over how that money had to be spent on payroll versus overhead, it wasn't much help to her. Parks says without additional help from the government, she'll have to declare bankruptcy.

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External Links

xBk, Des Moines, Iowa

First Avenue, Minneapolis

National Independent Venue Association - official site

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