Go to any community—from big cities to small towns—and at the heart of that community you’ll find a place where people come together to experience live events, such as concerts, plays, a museum, or the local movie theatre. It’s the place where locals go on Saturday night, parents take their kids, and draws visitors from out of town. But more than just about any other type of small business, Covid dealt a near-death blow to these companies. Now the federal government has thrown them a life line.
Applications for “Shuttered Venue Operator Grants” (SVOG) to help live event venues survive finally opened April 26, but small businesses that want a SVOG grant better hurry to apply. Although there’s $16.2 billion, these funds will run out, and soon.
“We were waiting to apply, and we were ready, we were prepared,” said Cathy Buck, owner of the Cameo Cinema—a 108-year-old, one-screen movie theatre in Saint Helena, CA—who applied the first day the Small Business Administration (SBA) started taking applications. “We waited in the portal line for over 3 hours. We were 300th something in line.”
Founded in 1913, the Cameo is California’s oldest continuously operated single-screen movie theatre, but it was in danger of shutting its doors permanently. That would have been a grave loss. While Saint Helena, at the center of Napa Valley, attracts tourists, the Cameo primarily serves locals, many of whom are workers in the winery and tourist industries. “Ninety percent of our customers are locals,” said Buck. “The Cameo revitalizes the downtown area,” said Buck. “People who come to a movie will shop, eat at one of the local small restaurants.”
“The Cameo is so much more than just a movie theatre,” said Kevin Coleman, President of the Board of the Cameo Cinema Foundation, a not-for-profit set up to help provide support for Cameo community events. “For example, in addition to running movies, the Cameo has a program to teach filmmaking to young people, holds special series on important educational topics, runs ‘CinemaBites’ where a movie is paired with food from a local chef to highlight local restaurants. And the big event is the family film festival. It’s hard to imagine how, if the Cameo disappeared, that anything could replace it.”
As with other live event venues throughout the country, the Cameo is still struggling even after some Covid restrictions have been lifted. While the Cameo did receive a PPP loan in 2020, that enabled them to keep their staff employed, but didn’t pay enough of their bills.
“We may be open, but we are only seeing 25-30% occupancy,” said Buck. “We’re not seeing the capacity numbers like 2019. Where I might have grossed $40,000 a month, I’m seeing half that, but our fixed costs remain the same. And due to Covid, there are increased costs for extra cleaning and more staff so there’s no line at the concession stand. That’s what the SVOG money is for.”
If you—or someone you know—runs a live event venue or is a talent promoter, you should check out the SVOG grants and soon. While $2 billion of the $16.2 billion was set aside for smaller venue operators, those funds will quickly be gone.
Live venue operators or promoters
- Theatrical producers
- Live performing arts organization operators
- Museum operators
- Motion picture theater operators
- Talent representatives
How much can they get?
Grants equal to 45% of 2019 gross earned revenue, minus any PPP funds received after December 27, 2020, with the maximum amount available for a single grant award of $10 million. In other words, if your shuttered venue (yes, I know that is awkward language…) had gross earned revenue of $100,000 in 2019, and you received a PPP forgiveable loan in May 2020, you might still qualify for a $45,000 grant.
Is this a loan?
No, it’s a grant. In other words, you do not have to pay this money back.
How do you apply?
Apply and get more information from the Small Business Administration SVOG portal: https://www.svograntportal.sba.gov/s/?fbclid=IwAR3x8bfegQnXRZ_lOIvyQ6LiZ2Txnv4Ij8dnxbABUmCRgMa4VyhYs84v3l8
There are changes to many other small business programs. Register at www.RhondaAbrams.com/subscribe and I’ll keep you updated on government and other help available to you.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2021
This article originally ran in USA Today on May 5, 2021