Darkened Theaters, Concert Halls Keep Waiting For Aid

Newsy investigation finds entertainment venues still waiting for federal aid more than 3 months after grant program was created.

Video Transcript


AUDREY FIX SCHAEFER: It's closed off to everybody.

PATRICK TERPSTRA: Come inside a concert hall darkened by the pandemic.

AUDREY FIX SCHAEFER: I just walked through the doors and just started sobbing. Not knowing when we'll will be back is really hard.



PATRICK TERPSTRA: Shows stopped at DC's famous 9:30 Club about a year ago. The invoices--

AUDREY FIX SCHAEFER: No revenue and enormous overhead.

PATRICK TERPSTRA: --kept coming.

AUDREY FIX SCHAEFER: No business can make it like that.

PATRICK TERPSTRA: Independent concert and theater venues have been treading water, desperate for a financial lifeboat they thought was in sight. A campaign to save America's stages worked. Congress allocated $15 billion for venues across America back in December. But stages have yet to see a penny of those funds.

It's another example we found of struggling businesses waiting for the government to distribute approved, urgent coronavirus relief. Congress authorized the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program just before the holidays, part of the second COVID stimulus bill. But no checks three months later for venues like Tower Theater in Oklahoma City.


- (SINGING) I was born in the '80s, dog.

PATRICK TERPSTRA: Now doing online concerts and virtual bartending classes.

- I'm gonna make you a martini.

PATRICK TERPSTRA: Trying to hang on before getting up to $10 million from the grant program run by the Small Business Administration, SBA.

STEPHEN TYLER: It literally gave us-- it looked like it was gonna give us a year's worth of runway.

PATRICK TERPSTRA: What owner Steven Tyler was not expecting was this wait.

STEPHEN TYLER: We have burned through our own cash reserves. Every second, you're running out of money.

PATRICK TERPSTRA: The SBA says it has taken time to develop a system to screen grant applicants, trying to balance doling out money quickly while protecting against waste and fraud.

BARB CARSON: We need to have a program that's fair to ensure that people who are not eligible don't get the funds, because it's going to go fast.


- (SINGING) I need, I need you, baby.

PATRICK TERPSTRA: Whether there's enough for all struggling stages is a big question. There's now just over $16 billion for all eligible venues, with priority for those losing the most revenue. The SBA will finally start accepting applications April 8.

AUDREY FIX SCHAEFER: That date can't come too soon, because venues have gone under.

PATRICK TERPSTRA: For now, the 9:30 Club is set up as a food pantry for their own furloughed staff.

AUDREY FIX SCHAEFER: We know that there's no other jobs for them. It's been just sad and devastating.


- (SINGING) We are, we are, alive tonight!

PATRICK TERPSTRA: No target yet for reopening or estimate from the SBA on when they'll receive help to get them there. Patrick Terpstra, Newsy, Washington.