BY EVERYNIGHT CHARLEY CRESPO | Last we heard, Lower East Side music venue Arlene’s Grocery was scheduled to close on Feb. 1 unless a new line of revenue came into place.
On Nov. 27, the longtime music hot spot at 95 Stanton St. posted an urgent online plea for support.
On Jan. 7, D’Angelico Guitars responded by donating $15,000 to help keep Arlene’s Grocery afloat. The guitar manufacturer and retailer challenged the public to contribute another $15,000. If the public complies, D’Angelico promises to contribute yet another $15,000.
Previously, D’Angelico Guitars awarded $7,000 to the Bitter End. The company will announce support for additional venues in the next several weeks.
Many of the live-music venues that have remained closed for the past 10 months have led crowd-sourcing efforts, merchandising and benefit concerts. Arlene’s Grocery will host a fundraising livestream featuring many of the bands that performed there regularly until the closing nearly a year ago. Honor Among Thieves, Jane Lee Hooker, Killcode, Snake Canyon and Thornes will be among the performers. The venue will announce the date and time of the live stream soon.
Arlene’s Grocery opened in 1995 and presented rock bands nightly until the pandemic hit in March 2020 and shuttered all nightlife. The venue closed towards the end of the weeklong New Colossus Festival, which was bringing new music acts from around the world to New York stages.
Beginning this past summer, Arlene’s Grocery partially reopened. The venue offered outdoor seating and sold to-go drinks and souvenir merchandise from its window, but presented no live entertainment. Arlene’s Grocery posted playlists on Spotify in May 2020, and in November launched a YouTube channel featuring Jeff Buckley, the Strokes, Saosin and other music acts that got their start at the venue. The venue also posted a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $80,000; to date, the fundraiser has generated $51,241.
Will the Save Our Stages Act provide the remaining funds necessary to keep Arlene’s Grocery and similar music venues in business? The Save Our Stages Web site reports the following vague progress:
The NIVA Emergency Relief Fund was launched to raise money for our most vulnerable venues, and keep them afloat while we wait on Congress. The fund will be administered by The Giving Back Fund, a separate nonprofit that will collect the money and oversee the application process for venues to receive grants from the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund.
Now that the Save Our Stages Act has been passed as part of the upcoming COVID-19 Relief Bill, NIVA hopes to work with the Small Business Administration to ensure the emergency relief is dispersed as Congress intended. Since it could take many weeks, even months for the funding to flow, the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund continues to raise money to assist the venues at greatest risk of permanently going under as we wait for the grants to be issued.
With further aid, Arlene’s Grocery, which was reportedly on life support in November, soon may be transferred out of the intensive-care unit.
If this business closes, blame Speaker Corey Johnson and his chief of staff, Erik Bottcher, for failing to make changes in the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and bring it to a vote in 2019. In Oct. 2018 at a hearing on the businesses closings and empty stores, Speaker Johnson pledged to amend the Jobs Survival Act to exclude big Fortune 500-type businesses and bring it to a vote. If he had kept his pledge, this bill gives every business a right to renewal of a 10-year lease, equal rights to negotiate new fair lease terms and an arbitration process to protect the tenant from rent gouging and being forced to pay their landlord’s property taxes. Johnson and Bottcher repeatedly lied when asked when the changes would be made and voted on. (The bill had 29 sponsors and would have passed easily.) They were never “tweaking the bill or fine-tuning it.” No changes were ever made. Instead Johnson continued rigging the system to stop any vote on the Jobs Survival Act or on any real lifeline to save a single Village business. This business, as well as all Village businesses, would not be fighting for their lives if democracy were allowed to work at City Hall.
Why are the expenses so high? So that they can pay rent? Is all of the money simply going to the landlord class? Why can’t the city, state, or federal govt pay Arlenes bills? This country needs to learn to value its culture as much as its stock market.