We have absolutely no revenue, but we have enormous fixed overhead of rent, utilities, insurance and a host of taxes. In addition, we’re paying insurance premiums for our employees who were on our insurance, even the 95 percent we’ve been forced to furlough. We have negative revenue. That’s when you have no revenue but have to cancel or postpone 222 shows (so far), representing refunds of up to a quarter of a million tickets. It’s like a vacuum cleaner to your bank account.
We cannot last like this.
We turned 40 in June, a rare milestone for an independent promoter in this incredibly competitive, thin-margin business. But our success as the most attended club of our size in the world (No. 2 is in Belgium) does not protect us from potential bankruptcy. We’ve been able to weather multiple recessions, 9/11, countless changes in musical tastes, the mortgage crisis, a gas crisis and tragic mass killings at concerts abroad and in the United States. When these unexpected events hit, we recalibrated. We figured it out.
We were the poster child of a successful homegrown business, entrepreneurs taking all the risk, setting up in dangerous parts of D.C., first at 930 F Street NW and then moving in 1996 to 9th and V Streets NW. They called us pioneers, but we couldn’t afford other locations. Over time, both neighborhoods developed around us, other businesses moved in, and people came to shop, dine and live.
A recent study found for every $1 spent at a small venue on a ticket, $12 of economic activity was realized by surrounding businesses. The Anthem as the magnet at the Wharf is a perfect example. When we have 6,000 people coming to a show, the restaurants, bars and hotels are bustling.
But now, we’ve been left out on a limb. We’ve never put our hand out for help before, but we’ve also never had our business effectively taken from us. No amount of business acumen or creativity can save the 9:30 Club, the Anthem, U Street Music Hall, Pearl Street Warehouse, DC9 or Union Stage — to name a handful of D.C. independent music venues. Already, the beloved Eighteenth Street Lounge has folded.
We need help.
The 9:30 Club, Lincoln Theatre, the Anthem and Merriweather Post Pavilion became charter members of National Independent Venue Association because we knew our survival depended on joining together to seek federal assistance, as we’ve watched the banks and airlines do. You know the need is dire when 2,000 independent venues and promoters agree on anything, but that’s how many have joined National Independent Venue Association since April.
When surveyed, National Independent Venue Association members said if the shutdown lasts six months or longer and there’s no federal assistance, 90 percent would fold forever. Believe them. Believe the 9:30 Club and the Anthem because we cannot survive this crushing economic blow without the Save Our Stages Act or Restart America Act becoming law before Congress leaves for recess in August. These are not handouts. They are investments to get us through until we can be contributing members of our community again.
I know people care about their music venues because more than 1.3 million people have asked Congress to help independent venues while we’re forced to keep our doors closed.
None of us wants to envision D.C. without its beloved music venues. It’s part of our community’s heart and soul. This is not a drill. This will be a hollow town, and the United States will be filled with boarded-up buildings if the Save Our Stages or Restart Acts aren’t passed.
The last concert I saw at the 9:30 Club was March 11, when the Dead Kennedys took the stage on the final night before the shutdown. At that time, we were told we’d be closed for 20 days. Now at 150 dark days with no revenue, I have to wonder if I’ll see another show at my treasured place again. Without federal assistance, it doesn’t seem possible.