The pandemic is likely to claim another concert venue


After operating for more than 8 years, Spring Garden music hotspot Voltage Lounge is being forced to close its doors after falling behind on rent.

“At some point in the near future we will get that space back from Voltage,” says Craig Grossman, general partner at Arts + Crafts Holdings. Arts + Crafts Holdings, which owns the building, defines themselves as “active investors and the leading developer on the northern edge of Center City Philadelphia.”

This is the second noteworthy closing of a venue in Philadelphia since COVID-19 paralyzed the live music scene in March. In November, Boot & Saddle on Broad Street was the first to succumb to financial pressures.

In response to the bleak outlook for their industry, a new trade group was formed to advocate for independent venues, the National Independent Venues Association (NIVA). According to a survey of NIVA members, “90% of independent venues report that they will close permanently in a few months without federal funding.”

The entrance to Voltage Lounge. Photograph courtesy of David Lisowski.
The entrance to Voltage Lounge. Photograph courtesy of David Lisowski.

Voltage Lounge, along with more than 30 other Philadelphia venues, including Union Transfer, World Cafe Live and The Mann Center, have joined NIVA. Nationally, more than 3,000 venues are part of national lobbying efforts. According to NIVA, nationwide independent venues have had to furlough 95% of employees.

A bipartisan bill spearheaded by John Cornyn (R-Tex) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Min) entitled the “Save Our Stages” Act would appropriate $10 billion towards bailing out independent venues.

singer with audience in front of him
Photograph courtesy of Jordan Massam.

“We have about 220 cosponsors in Congress, but Congress doesn’t pass one bill at a time. So this would have to be part of a greater COVID relief package,” says Audrey Fix Schaefer, the communications director at NIVA.

Schaefer continues: “Venues were first to close. That’s zero revenue. The overhead is enormous, [including] taxes and insurance. Plus the programs the government has launched for COVID relief did not help our industry.”

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) didn’t provide relief to the live performance industry, because venues were never able to reopen and rehire employees. The structure of the PPP loans incentivize companies to reopen and remploy laid off workers. Without the ability to reopen, “PPP is added debt for the industry,” says Schaefer.

As for Voltage Lounge and Arts + Crafts Holdings, there is no love lost between the two organizations, and the future seems uncertain. They have been in court for over a year disputing a lease renewal. Sean Salm, general manager of Voltage Lounge, notes that they are $150,000 behind on rent, dating back to June 2019.

According to Salm, Voltage “stopped paying rent because we were in a legal battle.”

Grossman and Arts + Crafts Holdings reject this claim.

“We’ve been going down this path for over a year and a half. When a tenant doesn’t pay rent, a landlord does whatever they need to get that space back,” says Grossman.

“With Arts + Crafts it seems to be about more than money. They are in a position where they have the luxury to sit on a vacant lot if they want—a luxury that most businesses don’t have,” counters Salm.

In the meantime, both companies sit in limbo awaiting the future of their industries. Management at Voltage noted that they hope the “Save Our Stages” Act passes in a COVID-19 relief package, but are unsure if they’d be welcomed to stay by their landlords

Schaefer was unable to hide her emotions during a phone call. Audibly crying, Schaefer explains, “My heart just breaks, we’ve been fighting so hard for so long for the Voltage Lounges and the Boot and Saddles. I learn about a new place closing everyday.”

Voltage Lounge has started a petition in an attempt to save the venue. Both Voltage Lounge and Arts + Crafts Holdings said they are willing to talk if federal relief is passed.

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