Published in Small Business
The Intersection, which includes four venues in downtown Grand Rapids, hosted its last concert on March 11. The Intersection, which includes four venues in downtown Grand Rapids, hosted its last concert on March 11. MIBIZ PHOTO: ANDY BALASKOVITZ

The Intersection fights for survival amid venue shutdown

BY Sunday, May 10, 2020 06:28pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Music venues across the U.S. are caught in a coronavirus quandary. 

The question they face: Do they start booking and rescheduling bands with a safe amount of lead time in the months ahead, or do they wait for talent agents to contact them as bands feel more comfortable traveling?

“It’s like playing a game of chess at this point,” said Scott Hammontree, general manager and talent buyer at The Intersection in Grand Rapids. “The virus is dictating right now when that’s actually going to happen.”

Indeed, music venues were among the first to halt operations due to COVID-19 — The Intersection’s last show was on March 12 — and they may be among the last to reopen. As of late April, Hammontree said “not much communication” was happening between bands, agents and venues.

“Everyone is just waiting to see,” he said.

Since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home order came down on March 24, Hammontree said there’s been a mix of acts canceling, postponing and rescheduling. Initially, venues were rescheduling shows to June and July, while “others were more realistic” and planning into the fall, he said.

The Intersection — which includes four separate venues of varying capacity at its downtown Grand Rapids location — has temporarily laid off all of its staff, which ranges in size from the mid-50s to nearly 90 people, depending on the concert season. The venue typically has 100,000 to 110,000 attendees a year and exceeds $3 million in ticket sales.

As long as large gatherings are banned to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, music venues remain in limbo. Unlike bars or restaurants that may be able to limit occupancy in the future, venues have no such options. 

Another complication is the varying stay-home orders by state. In the coming months, Michigan’s rules may look different than Indiana’s and Ohio’s, for example. Hammontree also serves as the talent buyer at the Clyde Theatre in Fort Wayne, Ind.

“I feel like it’s impossible to plan at this point,” he said. “The guidelines vary from state to state.”

Amid the uncertainty and survival mode, small independent venues across the U.S. have banded together. The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which now has more than 1,000 members, is calling on Congress to support “targeted legislative and regulatory assistance.” 

A study by the National Endowment for the Arts says arts and culture contributed nearly $880 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2017. Pollstar forecasts the live music industry could lose $8.9 billion in revenue if venues remain closed through 2020. NIVA’s letter notes that, “for the first time in history, there is legitimate fear for our collective existence.”

The Intersection also has started a staff fundraiser for tipped and hourly workers, which raised $8,500 in the first month.

“It really comes down to survival mode,” Hammontree said. “We really don’t know how long we can go. We have zero income while the bills are piling up for rent, utilities and insurance.”

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