Coronavirus relief request process interrupted keeps site owners on the lookout, but the restart is here
Nightclubs and stages first to close, last to reopen were eager to claim their share of the $ 15 billion in disaster relief known as the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants, so many were online on April 8 as the US Small Business Administration opened its portal to accept applications. Then, they saw the SBA shut down the site two hours later, without any applications being accepted, indicating “technical issues” identified.
For several days, the government site assured that “we aim to reopen the portal by the end of the week of April 18” – but Thursday evening, quickly out of the week with no updates, it finally tweeted that the restart would come on Saturday.
The information on the portal was kept at the national level of the SBA; Several states and the agency’s Boston area members were still in the dark Thursday afternoon. “We know the funding is urgently needed,” said Elizabeth Moisuk, of the agency’s regional office in Boston.
Agency spokeswoman Andrea Roebker, speaking from her seat, said only on Wednesday evening that the SBA planned to “give advance notice of the reopening of the application portal so that applicants can be better prepared.” . In an email at 10:16 p.m. Thursday, the agency told applicants that updated documents and advice would be sent out on Friday.
First come, first served
The funds, fought by the National Independent Venue Association since the coronavirus pandemic closed stages across the country and passed by Congress in late December, are first-come, first-served, with a host of confusing documents on which to err could suddenly disqualify a candidate. “They have explicitly stated that they will not give you the opportunity to ask questions or remedy any shortcomings in your application – they will just decline your application and move on to the next person to donate all the money as quickly as possible. . “Said Sam Epstein, who opened The Jungle music club in 2019 in Union Square in Somerville.” It’s scary that it’s all or nothing.
As a result, he said, “all I have done since April 8 is go through these documents every day and expand more and more pages of explanatory documents – I have basically wrote these textbooks that explain everything about my business accounting, finance and taxes.
“I’m sure that’s too much of a stretch,” said Epstein, “but there is no other use of my time. I cannot open the club. We have been closed for over a year and this grant is essential to our survival. ”
No late closings
Although Epstein didn’t find the two-week delay from April 8 himself excruciating – the money wouldn’t have arrived immediately anyway, and the massive loans he needs to repay have already been taken out and generate interest – his colleague from Once Somerville, JJ Gonson, knows that if some theater operators don’t get their money soon, it will be too late.
She and Epstein founded SaveMAstages as an offshoot of the National Independent Venue Association; it has about 114 members statewide, of which about 50 are sites – developers, bookers and other industry workers can join as well – with several of them in Cambridge and Somerville. Her leadership hasn’t stopped her from having to permanently close the doors of her own 9,000 square foot club on Highland Avenue in Somerville in December, although she continues to book and promote groups virtually.
“Like everyone else, we are counting on these funds to continue because my investment was flushed down the toilet,” Gonson said.
Still, she said, “I haven’t heard of anyone shutting down because of the wait. I am sure this is happening in the world; I haven’t heard of it in Massachusetts. “
ArcLight turns dark
The owners and managers of the non-profit Harvard Square Brattle Theater, which is also raising money from the fund, said in Monday’s edition of their podcast that they were pretty sure they had a big hit. example of a venue closing due to portal crash: The chain of cinemas ArcLight, which opened 15 screens in Boston as recently as November 2019, but has since announced that none of its 17 locations in the country are would reopen. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that ArcLight Pacific’s announcement is [now] and the SVOG didn’t happen last week, ”said Ian Brownell of the Brattle. “They might have deals with owners where they’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re absolutely going to write you a check by that date,’ and then they’re like, ‘Well, shit.’” (The owners of ArcLight did not give details of what is behind their stop.)
The government must distribute the money, but “every day it doesn’t, it is potentially a day when a business is unable to renew a lease or reopen,” said the executive director. from the Brattle Foundation, Ivy Moylan.
The Brattle so far survives without the grant, they said, and another Harvard Square institution – Club Passim – is in a similar situation, publicist Adam Klein said. “Passim was very lucky,” Klein said.
He was still struck by all of the months leading up to the portal opening, only to “derail this epic,” Klein said.
“Critical” for survival
In Somerville, the Center for Arts at the Armory organization expects the eventual grant to be “very important to us in the coming months, and for the rest of the year … the grant will be critical,” said Stephanie Scherpf, the director of the non-profit organization. director. While the organization has remained afloat on the whole with a few modest loans from the paycheck protection program and city and state grants, the coronavirus and the strict restrictions on entertainment venues imposed by the Somerville’s government resulted in a series of shutdowns, start-ups and changes in the centre’s business model. . Scherpf said she had just applied for outdoor entertainment.
Even two weeks after the portal opened and a few updated FAQs later, Scherpf said she still had questions about an application with no margin for error.
“It’s not an easy application, so [been] frustrating not being able to target one day and say, “Okay, I’m going to set aside all day Friday to start it,” “Nodded Gonson, calling the closing of the portal its effect on the sites closed and missing a preview of when it will be restarted for “maddening” use.
Restaurants could compete
Added to that is a preview of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund program app, which Gonson said was a lot simpler than what gated entertainment venues have to go through. The SBA has not said when the restaurant’s emergency portal will open, but Gonson is concerned it may conflict with the sites’ apps.
“For each place there are around 100 restaurants. We were already worried about how they were going to handle our tens of thousands of requests, ”Gonson said.
Roebker confirmed that the agency will deal with both sets of apps, but did not respond to how they would be prioritized or whether closed places risk being overwhelmed with catering apps.