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Staging a Revival: how entertainment venues make a comeback from pandemic

Hundreds of entertainment venues nationwide shut their doors, many teetering on the brink of financial collapse
Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 5:43 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - “I never could have envisioned that the world would shut down and entertainment would be on the brink of failure,” said NiteLite Promotions President, Don Kronberg.

The flip of a light switch echoes eerily inside BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford these days. General Manager, Gretchen Gilmore, said the silence is a deafening reminder of the past year without live events.

“You walk around the building, and you don’t see anyone for weeks. You can picture the excitement, and the lights and the people cheering. And you miss it,” said Gilmore.

Hundreds of entertainment venues nationwide shut their doors as the pandemic hit, with many teetering on the brink of financial collapse.

“We’re doing basically everything we can to stop the bleeding,” said Gilmore.

The BMO Harris Bank Center and Coronado Performing Arts Center went from packing the house for Broadway performances of Cats and Wicked and hosting top headliners like Def Leppard and Prince, to empty seats and unrealized anticipation. Venues feared the pandemic would strike the finishing blow on the live entertainment industry.

“I think for a while, I was in-denial. I was like nah, this is going to come back,” said Kronberg.

“Once you stop having revenues, then your goal becomes reducing expenses,” said Gilmore.

Just in the last year alone, Gilmore estimates the BMO lost $4.5 million in net revenue. It also furloughed 95% of its staff. Since March 2020, most of those staff members have yet to return.

“If you would have asked me two months ago if I thought this would happen, I’d tell you no way,” said Kronberg. “There is no way we could come back from where we were, to the point where we’re at now so quickly.”

But like a light that flickers at the end of a long and dark tunnel, entertainment venues see hope.

“But this fund is fabulous because it’s going to save a lot of our venues,” said Kronberg.

Kronberg owns NiteLite Promotions in Palatine, where he manages everything from concert promotions to marketing and talent buys. He said congress approved $15 billion in federal relief back in December of 2020 to help shuttered venues survive the pandemic. They’re just now starting to see the money.

“A lot of the small venues that were ready to put the boards up across the windows will now see the light of day again,” said Kronberg.

But venue leaders don’t expect the business to look the same.

“The landscape that I’m used to has changed, and probably will change forever. But in a lot of cases, a lot of good things are starting to happen because of it,” said Kronberg.

“We’ve already taken some measures to have air purifiers in the buildings, we have UV protection on our escalators,” said Gilmore. “People will have their own comfort levels. If they want to come to an event and wear a mask, they can certainly do that.”

But are those safety efforts enough to convince people to return to live events in the fall?

“We’re already seeing it in our box office sales. People can’t wait to see live shows again,” said Kronberg.

“Now they can toss their mask and come out into the real world,” said Gilmore.

And people can get back to what they missed most from 2020.

“That’s probably the greatest, single thing that happens for me on a daily basis is watching the live crowd. It’s crazy as to what a 2-3 hour concert can do for somebody,” said Kronberg.

“It’s going to be so good to be together again. The Arts Community has survived,” said Friends of the Coronado Executive Director, Beth Howard.

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