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Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake hopes state and federal relief funding will help bridge the venue until live performances resume. Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake hopes state and federal relief funding will help bridge the venue until live performances resume. COURTESY PHOTO

Seven Steps Up owners praise latest federal relief, hopeful to resume shows in the fall

BY Sunday, January 17, 2021 06:28pm

SPRING LAKE — It has been nearly a year since Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake had a crowd of people packed together for a live music performance, but owners Gary and Michelle Hanks hope to see shows return in some capacity in 2021. 

“A lot of it will depend on how quickly the vaccine gets out and when we see any kind of normalcy returning to the musician-touring world,” said Michelle Hanks. “There are currently no tours happening and no planned tours, although we’re having some discussions with booking agents and artists about next fall.”

Last summer, the Hanks told MiBiz they were hoping to salvage some of the performances that had been canceled since mid-March and postpone them for later in the year, which didn’t materialize because of a second wave of COVID-19 cases. More than 100 shows were planned for 2020 at Seven Steps Up before COVID-19 hit. 

The couple is now cautiously setting their sights on resuming shows at the renovated historic landmark in the fall of 2021, depending on the success of the vaccine deployment.

Meanwhile, the $15 billion in COVID-19 federal relief funding that is earmarked for live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions is a lifeline that should be able to keep their business afloat until they can host shows again, Hanks said. The $15 billion in grant funding was included in the $900 billion spending package that was signed by President Trump in late December.

“If we can get some of this federal funding, that will get us through a couple more months down the road and we feel very hopeful that we will be able to make it through this,” Hanks said. 

Seven Steps Up is a member of the National Independent Venue Association, which had lobbied state and federal lawmakers for venue relief funding for months. 

“I’m not any less busy than I was when we were able to be open,” Hanks said. “My husband and I are still spending tons of hours trying to make sure we’re pivoting and looking at what changes we have to make and how much things are going to cost. It’s still taking a tremendous amount of time.”

Seven Steps Up also received $38,000 from a crowdfunded GoFundMe campaign, as well as a $35,000 grant from the national Live Music Society to help cover operating expenses. 

Owning the Seven Steps Up building instead of leasing is a major benefit, but they still face maintenance expenses despite the absence of shows, Hanks said.

That absence of shows makes reopening with capacity restrictions nearly impossible from a financial standpoint — especially for smaller venues like Seven Steps Up, which is designed to accommodate crowds of up to 130 people.

“We have no expectations, it’s a survival thing,” Hanks said. “The goal is surviving. A year ago we were planning so far in advance and thought we knew exactly what was going to happen next.”

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