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Valley venue owner: We need relief to save our stages

"We can at least sell food," said West Side Bowl owner Nathan Offerdahl. "But to be perfectly frank, that's treading water at best." The Restart Act would extend and amend the Paycheck Protection Program and create a loan program for small- and medium-sized businesses.

YOUNGSTOWN — On weekend nights at this time last year, you could find venues like the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre and West Side Bowl packed with people rocking out to live music. 

Starting Tuesday, stages that have sat empty since March due to the coronavirus pandemic were lit up red to pressure Congress to provide lasting assistance to performance venues, according to a release from Wean Park. 

Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, these idled music venues — and others across the country — are at risk of going extinct without intervention. 

According to a recent survey, 90 percent of independent venues will close permanently in a few months without federal funding. 

"These spaces were some of the first, if not the first, to be forced to close," said Nathan Offerdahl, owner of West Side Bowl. "We will without question be the last places to fully reopen."

Many venues received money through the payroll protection program or the economic injury disaster loan program or both. But that will be gone by the end of the year, said Offerdahl. 

The Restart Act would extend and amend the Paycheck Protection Program and create an additional loan program for small- and medium-sized businesses.

"In addition to the Restart Act, support for extending unemployment benefits during COVID-19, for our furloughed employees is essential," the release read.

Offerdahl would like to see Congress pass legislation that provides flexible relief to venues, because each facility's situation is different. 

Some venues own their spaces and need mortgage relief. Others rent and need rent relief. Some, like Offerdahl, have built-in businesses, like restaurants or bars to help supplement. 

"We can at least sell food," said Offerdahl. "But to be perfectly frank, that's treading water at best, you know with food costs going through the roof, because of the pandemic and how it was handled. The margins are really thin right now."

For anyone doubting the importance of venues, Offerdahl explained the value West Side Bowl brings to its neighborhood on Youngstown's West Side. He called venues like West Side Bowl in Youngstown and Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland "economic multipliers."

"We've seen growth on the West Side just in our little section of the Mahoning corridor. We're seeing new investment. We're seeing people coming that way."

Venues of all sizes are also crucial to musicians and foster their growth. Offerdahl mentioned LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy in a recent interview compared the venue industry to a coral reef. 

"I mean, a perfect example from Ohio is the band 21 Pilots," said Offerdahl. "They played in small venues to 10 or 15 people. Now they play in arenas to 25,000 people."

He said music lovers can support the bill by signing a petition at Saveourstages.com, but he said the best thing people can do to support their favorite venues is follow guidelines for mitigating spread of the virus: stay home when you can, wear a mask and social distance.

"There's nothing like the communal experience of live music," said Offerdahl. "And it's not hyperbole to say that live music, as we know it, could definitely go away ... The hardest part of me is going in that big giant building and having it be empty. It's the most depressing thing."



Jess Hardin

About the Author: Jess Hardin

Jess Hardin is a reporter for Mahoning Matters. She grew up in Pittsburgh and last worked at The Vindicator. Jess graduated from Georgetown University.
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