Hamilton

COVID-19 is threatening Hamilton's already dwindling supply of live music venues

Hamilton's live music venues have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and two have taken to crowdfunding to stay alive.

‘We really have hit a pretty, pretty tough time now,’ Doors Pub owner Tyler Berglund says

Doors Pub owner Tyler Berglund says he has zero revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Hamilton's live music venues have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with two taking to crowdfunding to stay alive, and others saying they're struggling to make ends meet.

The Casbah and Club Absinthe have launched GoFundMe campaigns, while other venues say they likely wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for government help. All this comes after the closure of This Ain't Hollywood last year, which musicians and promoters said was shattering for the local music scene. 

Tyler Berglund, the owner of Doors Pub, said while he's looking forward to when he'll be able to eventually reopen, he's concerned about the length of time it will take to return to normal.

"We really have hit a pretty, pretty tough time now," Berglund told CBC Hamilton.

"It's hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It's very rough."

Berglund said he was forced to lay off one of his three employees, and could only pay the remaining two for one pay period during the lockdown. He said they are now receiving employment insurance (EI) assistance.

"I've seen a revenue drop in December of 75 per cent, and for January 100 per cent. I have zero revenue," Berglund said.

"Even when we do reopen … we're probably going to be seeing low revenues for months, and we have no rent assistance, so it's very problematic for us for sure."

Tyler Berglund, the owner of Doors Pub, says he was forced to lay off one of his three employees and was only able to pay the remaining two for one pay period during the lockdown. (Doors Pub/Facebook)

'It's been rough'

Jim Perdikoulias, the owner of Corktown Pub, said live music venues might not survive without further government help.

"It's been rough. It's all savings and government programs right now," Perdikoulias told CBC Hamilton.

"I've been completely shut down. I shut down two weeks prior to November because I saw the numbers [of COVID-19 cases] getting higher and higher, so I just thought why bother putting off the inevitable."

Perdikoulias said he had 15 part-time and contract employees.

Hopeful about the future

Even though the last several months have been challenging, Perdikoulias is still hopeful that live music venues will be able to return.

"Right now, the most optimistic date is in September/October for booking shows again," he said.

"I'm hoping to hopefully open up in April/May … and then I can hopefully have a patio up."

"It's been rough," says Jim Perdikoulias, the owner of Corktown Pub. (Submitted by Jim Perdikoulias)

Keeping an eye on new COVID-19 variants

Perdikoulias said he has also been paying close attention to the new COVID-19 variants, adding that he finds them "intimidating."

"The new variants of the COVID-19, it's got me a little bit scared," he said.

"Hopefully we can get on top of it. Hopefully the government didn't wait too long to act on it, and hopefully we can get more vaccinations going."

As for the survival of the live music venues, Perdikoulias said, "It's going to come down to government initiatives and government help because they are the ones driving the bus right now.

"So, if governments are going to support live music venues, that's what's going to keep them in play."

Musicians, patrons want to return

According to Perdikoulias, he's getting a lot of patrons and musicians saying they want to come back. 

But he said it's a matter of whether the government is going to keep the culture and the arts going. 

"It's really what they want to do at this time," he said. 

"I think the musicians really want to start playing, and people really want to start going to live shows. So if the government starts supporting them and giving them breaks to keep them around, then we'll stick around. Let's see what they're going to do." 

"Right now, the most optimistic date is in September/October for booking shows again," says Jim Perdikoulias, owner of the Corktown Pub. (Submitted by Jim Perdikoulias)

Turning to crowdfunding campaigns

Casbah Hamilton is among venues that have launched crowdfunding campaigns to help them get through this period.

Owner Brodie Schwendiman says this is just one of the ways they have been trying to generate revenue. 

"Right now, the way we're rolling is to work a crowdfunding campaign, which has had fluctuating success," Schwendiman told CBC Hamilton.

"We've [also] been selling merchandise [on] our website."

Casbah Hamilton is crowdfunding to stay afloat, says owner Brodie Schwendiman. (Submitted by Brodie Schwendiman)

Schwendiman says one thing that is often overlooked is that even though music venues have liquor licences, their ability to pivot and adapt as a curbside pickup- takeout-type place isn't quite as easily doable versus more traditional bars and restaurants that are fuelled by their food business.

"I think sometimes the government loops us all into one sort of solution or category as a liquor licensed establishment," he said.

"But the live music venues, they're designed as places where the primary purpose is live entertainment, and trying to communicate to the public that we're available for takeout is a more difficult task than the traditional bar or restaurant.

"And Hamilton is such a great culinary scene, I wouldn't even know how I could compete when it comes to food quality and takeout business with some of the places that are so good."

Casbah owner Brodie Schwendiman says music venues have liquor licences can't as easily pivot to become take-out restaurants. (The CasbahFacebook)

Live streaming music to the public

Schwendiman said recent guidelines regarding live streaming have put "a hiccup in our long-term goal of doing some live streamed concerts." But he said they have invested in live streaming camera equipment to have a long-term and more permanent digital version of sending live music to the public.

"That's what we're getting prepared for right now. We're tweaking all of that stuff so that when we have a bit more freedom to run that type of event, we're going to be ready to do so."

Casbah Hamilton is among venues that have launched crowdfunding campaigns to help them get through this period. (Submitted by Brodie Schwendiman)

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