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Music venues eager for assistance from federal stimulus package

Fans watching a concert at Abilene Bar and Lounge as part of the 2013 Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Fred SanFilipo
Fans watching a concert at Abilene Bar and Lounge as part of the 2013 Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Owners of music venues around the Rochester region who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic are anxiously waiting for help from the latest federal stimulus package.

The package signed by President Donald Trump early this week gives billions in aid to music venues, but at least one popular venue isn’t sure if they’ll qualify. 

Geoff Dale, who handles all things music at Three Heads Brewery, is concerned that the dynamics of his business could make getting the funding difficult. 

“We may not be seen as a music venue, even though we do music,” said Dale. “We’ll have to see and read the whole bill and we’ll check it out.”

He said shows are frequent at the brewery but only generate about 15% of its revenue. Dale said the bulk of their money comes from selling beer at their Atlantic Avenue location and wholesale, and they've been able to continue that during the pandemic. 

Dale said many other venues were not as lucky and won’t come back. He said the government should have moved sooner.

“If you have a business that’s trying to comply with what they’re told they have to do, and that makes them unable to generate revenue, you’re basically closing them if you’re not giving them assistance,” said Dale. “I just wish there was a little bit more of a sense of urgency to assist those who need it, not just businesses, but everyone.”

Abilene Bar and Lounge owner Danny Deutsch expects to qualify. But since the bill bases aid on a percentage of 2019 revenue, he said he’ll need help to learn how much he may receive. 

“No, I don’t have a problem enlisting my accountant, the numbers aren’t that large to begin with, we can figure them out,” said Deutsch. 

Abilene has been closed for much of 2020. And with restrictions increasing, and the local infection rate spiking, he has no idea when he’ll be able to reopen. Deutsch said he got some help from the state, local and federal governments through grants and a Paycheck Protection Plan loan, but he remains worried that it won't be enough to keep the business afloat.

He’s thankful that lobbying groups like the National Independent Venue Association pushed for their inclusion in the legislation. Deutsch said the stimulus bill could be the lifeline that arts and music venues need.

“It’s been a long time coming, just as another stimulus -- not just the package but the checks -- have been a long time coming,” said Deutsch. “All of us are in a position where we desperately want to reopen. Based upon science and cases, we can’t wait until that day when we can reopen and do what we do again.”

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.