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Local music venues hoping to reopen join national group lobbying Congress

Posted at 10:23 PM, May 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-10 23:29:15-04

CLEVELAND — The state is starting to reopen but several businesses were left off Gov. Mike DeWine's timeline for Ohioans.

The music industry is wondering when local venues can open and how many people will be allowed inside. These independent venues are stepping forward so they don't get left behind.

The Grog Shop has been a Cleveland area staple for decades.

Owner Kathy Blackman wants it to stay that way but said "we have nothing to fall back on. If we're not in business for another six months because there's no shows we may never be in business again."

That's why she joined a national group to make her single voice louder.

Blackman's Grog Shop is one of 46 Ohio-based venues to register with the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA).

The group started in Minneapolis in early April and now has more than 1,300 members.

"Just so we have a sounding board," Blackman said about NIVA. "Some people are just promoters. Some people are club owners. Some people are involved in festivals but, point being, we're not AEG or Live Nation which has big corporate money behind them. They have a safety net. We don't have a safety net."

The group came out swinging. In the last few weeks, NIVA authored three letters to Congress lobbying for more representative on Capitol Hill.

Sean Watterson, one of the owners of Happy Dog, said NIVA's "#SaveOurStages" campaign is crucial for businesses like his.

"Music venues were among the first to close and we're going to be among the last to reopen," he said.

NIVA wants its members to be included in future funding to bolster small businesses.

"Perhaps the CARES Acts 4 or 5 or—whatever it will end up being —we will be included in a more meaningful way," Blackman said.

Some music venues did get money from the first round of the Payroll Protection Program but that money has to be used soon.

"What we're hoping is that there are some changes to the [PPP] that give us the opportunity to open when it's safe to open," Watterson said.

Both Blackman and Watterson want Clevelanders to head online to sign a petition.

Part of the letter in the petition says if music venues don't open in 2020, "90% ... will likely never open again." It also cites a study that says, "that $1 spent at a small venue resulted in $12 of economic activities for neighboring restaurants, hotels and retail shops..."

Other venues in NIVA from Cleveland include the Beachland Ballroom, Nighttown, Wilberts and the Winchester.

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