Terry Tilka, owner of the Rock Island Brewing Company (RIBCO) and 2nd Ave Dance Club in Rock Island, discusses the venues' operations during this period of social distancing. We spoke on Thursday, July 2.
We're doing very limited hours. We're doing patio service a little bit, but we haven't opened the kitchen yet. The cooks aren't coming back – they're making too much money on unemployment. Between the federal and the state, why would they come back? Can you blame them?
But we opened up for a couple reasons. One, we still have to maintain the building and property and everything else, so there's always little stuff and projects that have to be done. Second, there are three or four college kids who work here, and there are a couple people who didn't qualify for unemployment. So we actually opened up three or four days a week – three or four hours a day here, five or six hours there. We've had a couple groups come in and book some parties, trying to be wonderful people and spend money locally, which was really nice of them to help us out. But we basically opened up for some of those kids so they can make some money, because they're all starving.
You know, they're here cleaning, they're scrubbing stuff, they're painting, they're tearing stuff apart in the kitchen to clean it, some are doing a little bit of bartending. But as you well know, even with a patio, you can't do enough to keep the lights on. The bills alone, per day, add up to way more than you're ever gonna do in sales.
When you hear about businesses that have opened up and re-closed and opened up and re-closed – some of it is because of corona, but a lot of it is because they're just not making any money. And you can't keep paying people and paying taxes when you're not making any money.
Indoor and Pavilion Entertainment
In the live-entertainment-venue world … . I mean, there are no bands out touring, and I would say over 90 percent of our acts are from out of town. But they're not out playing, and I don't see them coming back for months yet. Nobody's going to try to book a tour and then have dates cancel on them every time there's another outbreak. And who wants to play for a bar at 25-percent or 50-percent capacity? Because a lot of times, their deals are based on what the door does – that's how they get paid. Nobody wants to perform for 25 people.
So I don't see that [live music] happening for months yet at RIBCO, and as far as 2nd Avenue goes, we just haven't reopened it. It's better off to just keep it closed. A lot of people who do go out go out early, and adults are so used to being at home so much the last three or four months that they're not going out late at night. The only ones going out late at night are the kids, and some of those kids show up so late that it doesn't pay the bills to have a DJ, a door guy, and even one bartender – it doesn't make any sense. So we haven't even opened up Second Avenue, and we don't have any intention of opening it for at least a month.
And with the pavilion, by the time you set up a PA, put up all the fences, and hire the crews to work it, it's the same thing: You can't do enough business to pay the bills. You're just burning through money. That's why nobody's doing it. That's why the fair has canceled [grandstand acts], that's why the Iowa State Fair canceled … . That's why a lot of things are canceled. Financially, it makes absolutely no sense.
A lot of bands call every day. They want to reschedule like everyone else. But with larger acts, their agencies have basically said, “You're not going out.” The biggest booking agents, they know that – they know nothing's gonna happen for a year.
And with the music industry, when you think about bands not playing, think about all the sound guys, all the crew guys, all the union guys who are riggers – they're not working. They're not working at all. Road managers. Sound engineers. And some of these guys, I don't know if they're getting unemployment, because it depends if they reported their income and what they did and everything else. The guys that paid their dues are probably getting unemployment, but a lot of them aren't getting anything. That's part of the industry, and we all know that.
The State of Things for Bars and Restaurants
A neighborhood tavern can re-open and it'll slowly come back, and some of the other bars will re-open and slowly come back. But nobody's doing, in numbers, what they were doing five and six months ago. The economy was booming five or six months ago. And my personal opinion is I just don't see us coming back from this for almost a full year – and I think with 30, 35 percent of the bars and restaurants, they're not going to survive. I don't care how much PPP money you get, it's not gonna cut it. So we're gonna stick to our schedule with being open a little bit here and there, and we'll always post it on our social-media pages. But we're basically doing that so, you know, the people who work here can make that 40 or 50 bucks in tips for groceries.
Everyone is different. Like Kyle [owner of the Daiquiri Factory] next door. He's got a beautiful deck outside off the side of his building, so his numbers are going to be better than some of the others. It's a beautiful deck, so why wouldn't you sit there instead of sitting on the plaza? So a lot of guys are doing well with patios. But fiscally, it's just not good for any of us – and when Iowa opens up weeks ahead of us [in Illinois], it's not good. A lot of bartenders and servers from Illinois went over to Iowa when they opened up, and I don't know if they're coming back.
So it's sad. But you know what? It's gonna be interesting, because everyone's in limbo. And the problem is if there's a second wave like the one that's slowly popping up, and then a third wave, it won't make anything better or easier. I hear people say, “Oh, they're going to create something to cure it.” Well, they haven't done anything yet. Science takes time, and they still need to test and everything else. And everybody thought this was going to be over in three or four weeks. It's not.
Day by Day
I just feel sorry for these kids who are cooped up. A lot of them aren't making money, and if they do get something, they go home and give it to their parents or their grandparents – it's just a shame. And when you're 18 or 20, you sort of feel indestructible. “That happens to other people, not me,” you know what I mean? But they're finding out.
And as far as music venues go, you can try to run music lessons or whatever. But places like the Rust Belt and other venues that have done live music for a long time? I mean, I don't know who's gonna recover and who's gonna make it. It's gonna be brutal.
We had a meeting with some city officials the other day, and I tried to explain to them: “You guys are trying to help out, which is great, but you're also trying to oversee and run things from the city's perspective, and no two businesses are the same.” Circa '21 is a dinner playhouse. RIBCO is a live-entertainment venue that books mostly touring acts. You can't compare me to a Daiquiri Factory or Steve's Old Time Tap – everyone's different and has different circumstances. You can't put everybody into the same group.
A lot of places have actually done fairly well with their carry-out service and limited hours. I've also seen some friends of mine in the restaurant business who have just burned through everything they had saved for the last 20 years just in being closed for three months. They have no choice. But you're also seeing places close, and I think we're going to see more of it, to be honest. That'll play out over the next six to eight months. You can't make money with 50-percent seating. It's killing restaurants.
And the biggest shocker is you talk about all the bad, but it's amazing how many friends of mine say, “Wow, I'm not spending money going out anymore.” They're finding out their credit card bills are half of what they normally, because they're not buying that usual glass of wine. They're like, “I saved a lot of money staying home.” I mean, I've cooked at home more in the last four months than I have in the last five years. And I see a lot more driveway beers going on with friends and neighbors. I mean, my neighbors are all doing it. You have 12 people in a huge circle sitting around in a driveway catching up. They're all drinking at home.