Deep Ellum

While Some Music Venues Prepare to Reopen, Challenges Lie Ahead

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With spring's arrival right around the corner, it seems there couldn't be a better time for Deep Ellum Art Co. to reopen its backyard stage for live music performances with an audience.

There also couldn’t be a more crucial one.

"The math said if we didn't, we were done in about a month,” co-owner John LaRue said.

Along with his wife and co-owner, Kari LaRue, John called the past year dismal.

Since March 13, 2020, he said their only operations have been as a gallery and a handful of performances held over the fall when it was their only option to survive.

A PPP loan and another for small businesses covered some of the payroll.

Now repayment’s due, and they’re unsure whether they’ll be able to make ends meet.

"We see airlines get bailed out, and the banks get bailed out. And all the while, we're here withering on the vine,” Kari LaRue said.

The couple said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) announcement last week to allow all businesses to reopen at full capacity provides some relief. Though for now, they’ll operate under guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people still wear masks and keep a six-foot distance between them.

"It means that we have a chance to go down fighting without the law coming in to close us down,” John LaRue said.

But even with the doors open, he said the future is uncertain.

The LaRues are holding out hope for the Small Business Administration's Shuttered Venue Grant program, which promises a total of $15 billion in aid to businesses like theirs.

But not only is that uncertain, the applications aren’t even available yet.

"We have to be extremely cautious with every single dollar we're spending right now,” John LaRue said.

Reopening comes with a price.

Not only will the couple need to restock the bar after they tossed out everything that’s gone to waste, but they’re also focused on putting extra safety precautions into place.

For now, they’ll continue to keep shows outdoors with limited and distanced crowds after doing temperature checks at the door.

"While we are grateful that we can operate legally, I am personally fearful that this kind of throwing caution to the wind and opening everything up 100% that we might end up in a closure situation again,” Kari LaRue said.

It’s one they fear could mean the end for them or the other venues that make up the community.

Deep Ellum Art Co. reopens Thursday night.

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