Some sad news this week as a great Austin entertainment company – Alamo Draft House – filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Its not surprising, though, as so many entertainment venues in Texas are struggling.
But its not too late to support the people and venues that provide us so much joy and entertainment.
Thankfully, Alamo filed for Chapter 11 – reorganization. And not for liquidation. As a result, it will continue to operate – though with a new owner and a few less venues. Tim and Kerrie League – the founders of Alamo who grew it to the national chain it is now, apparently will no longer own it. And a few of the theaters are closing – including the Ritz location on 6th Street in Austin.
Reading this sad news, though, made me think about the entertainment industry as a whole and how hard it has been hit during COVID. The commercial property owners, venue operators, and entertainers themselves have all been crushed during this pandemic. This week I hope to shine some light on their issues in this blog entry.
Current Status of Entertainment
The other big piece of Texas news last week could bring some potential relief to the entertainment industry. Governor Abbott announced that he is issuing a new executive order that will rescind most of his earlier orders, including the statewide mask order and restrictions on business occupancy. As a result, it appears that Texas entertainment venues will be allowed to operate at full capacity.
Of course, just because they are allowed to open does not mean that they will. And it does not mean that people will show up.
You probably remember last fall there was a survey found that up to 90% of the music venues in Austin could be permanently closed by October. Its not clear to me how many of those venues did close by then. I do not think it is 90% of them, thankfully. But it is definitely more than anyone would like. And the carnage is not done.
So obviously a return to normal would be greatly appreciated. But Governor Abbott’s order alone is not going to bring normalcy back. Indeed, places like the Saxon Pub and Continental Club will not be reopening right away. Nor is Ester’s Follies. They are going to wait until the vaccine is more widely distributed before they open. And even if they wanted to open, its not even clear that they can get artists who are available to play.
And its not just music venues that are struggling. Foundational events like South by Southwest announced last fall that its 2021 event would be virtual. And who knows what will happen to ACL in the fall?
Struggles Ripple through the Industry
As mentioned above, these closings and struggles have hurt so many people. The focus of this blog is nominally commercial real estate. As a result, I’d be remiss if I did not recognize how crushing this is for the owners of the commercial properties that house these venues. Because when venues are closed, they obviously do not make any money. And then they cannot pay their rent. And when they cannot pay their rent, the property owners cannot pay their mortgage.
And, of course, perhaps most suffering are the artists themselves. For many, there just have not been any outlets for artists to display their art in the last year. And that’s a disaster – not just for the artists but for the people who rely on the artists to bring joy and meaning and entertainment into our lives.
So what’s the point of this blog article? I guess I’m worried. Art is the lifeblood of Austin. We always say that but what does it mean to us? Are we willing to really, truly support it when it needs us the most? I hope I am.
I can’t wait to visit as many galleries, music venues, and live events that I can as soon as they open up. I hope to see many of you there. In the meantime, I want to thank the Austin Creative Alliance for putting together this list of relief organizations that will help artists in need.