CLEVELAND — As state health orders will come to an end in less than two weeks, community establishments on both the East and West sides of the city are reopening their doors after more than a year-long hiatus.
“We figured it out. Our max capacity would have been nine people so that wasn't going to work,” said Sean Watterson with the soon-to-reopen Happy Dog, a Detroit Shoreway bar and music venue. “So what we did, we knew we had to shut down.”
The live music industry in particular has been crushed by COVID-19 restrictions.
After being closed for 15 months, Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights has now been open for 15 days.
“We’re not back to what we were, you know, 2019 or early 2020, but I think we'll get there,” Kathy Blackman said.
As COVID-19 cases drop statewide and Ohioans are rolling up their sleeves for the vaccine, independent music venues are trying to fill seats, serve customers and make up for a year’s worth of lost cash flow.
“All of a sudden the governor said we can be open. It seemed a little abrupt, even though I'm excited for it,” Blackman said. “I think we have to take baby steps to get back there.”
Jam-packed, wall-to-wall crowds are still a thing of the past as business owners like Blackman are still aiming to keep live music lovers and staff members safe.
On Detroit Avenue, beloved Happy Dog announced its much-anticipated reopening will be in late June.
“We've been closed the whole time because we're a live music venue and bands aren't touring,” Watterson said.
Since making the announcement, Watterson’s phone has been ringing off the hook.
“The response has been so humbling. It's just so incredible how happy it's making people and it's making us really happy to be able to come back,” Watterson said.
Gordon Square residents Elena and Chris Sledzik have been keeping a watchful eye on their favorite dive bar and counting down the days until Cleveland’s famous home of hot dogs reopens its doors.
“I’ve been getting text messages all day,” Elena Sledzik said. “They posted it on Facebook that they're opening in June.”
Chris Sledzik is excited to introduce his one-year-old daughter to his favorite venue.
“It's been a lot quieter street down Detroit Avenue in the last year, and it's sad because it's a lot of small business owners here,” Chris Sledzik said. “We snuck this one in once, but she's not had a chance to eat tater tots.”
Watterson said Happy Dog’s reopening won’t be all happy tears as they’ll honor close friends and family who lost their lives as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We haven't been able to be together to celebrate successes and come together over the losses,” Watterson said. “I think it's just going to be pretty emotional.”
County and federal grants have made the dream of reopening possible for both businesses, along with support from longtime customers.
“Especially on this side of Detroit Shoreway. It’s really a community within a community which we just have missed without it being open,” Jessica Trivisonno said. “We've just seen a ton of change in the neighborhood and it's created a lot of excitement as businesses come back. Everyone's just sort of waiting for the last couple to see if they reopen.”
Live music lovers are amped for the rush of hearing their favorite songs performed live after more than a year of silence at their neighborhood nighttime favorites.
“They've been gone all year and we're ready for them to open back up,” Elena Sledzik said. “We're very, very excited.”