Nov 19, 2021 - Business

Club owners brace for a COVID winter

A photo of a sign at a nightclub.

The Metro in Wrigleyville. Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Chicago music venues are chugging along, booking shows and concerts indoors for the winter. But with a COVID surge hitting, business owners are concerned.

Why it matters: This time last year, venues were shut down. Although federal funding has helped save Chicago stages, this winter will be a critical time.

What they're saying: "We don't have a crystal ball, but we do know venues are bracing for a challenging winter," Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL) co-chair Billy Helmkamp tells Axios. "Not one venue feels entirely bounced back."

  • "As cases go up, it becomes abundantly more clear the path back will not be without obstacles."

What's happening: Congress passed the $16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant this year, which has certainly helped venues financially.

Yes, but: Despite being passed in January 2021, most venues didn't see the grant money until months later, and some are still waiting.

  • "The vast majority of CIVL member venues that applied have now received federal funding," CIVL's co-chair Katie Tuten tells Axios. "However, not every member was awarded. Some were denied and others are currently in an appeal process."
  • The Intercept reported that venues have been frustrated with the SBA and its seemingly arbitrary decision-making on grants.

The big picture: Early in the pandemic, there were predictions that many independent music venues would fail. In Chicago, that turned out not to be the case.

  • "We have fortunately not had any permanent closures among our membership, thanks in part to the strong ecosystem of our independent venues," says CIVL board member Jennifer Estlin. "As it has been said, we are all in the same storm, but not the same boat.”

Fun fact: Chicago has more live music venues than Austin, Nashville and New Orleans combined.

  • Ironically, the city of Chicago dubbed 2020 "The Year of Chicago Music." The city extended the celebration into 2021.

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