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Local entertainment and service industries brace for change

Employees at Boojum Brewing in downtown Waynesville offer take out food service. Employees at Boojum Brewing in downtown Waynesville offer take out food service.

Amid the current coronavirus pandemic overtaking our world and our daily lives, local businesses and organizations in Western North Carolina are now thinking about how to deal with cancellations and shutdowns — changes that could drastically impact the regional economy moving forward.

“What a difference a few days make,” said Steven Lloyd, executive director of the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville. “Last Thursday, the world was still humming along in ‘normal’ mode, then Broadway was closed, Las Vegas shutdown and within 24 hours everything changed.”

As of this week, HART will postpone all of its current and upcoming productions through the end of April. Lloyd noted that HART will do whatever it takes to preserve what reserve funds it has to ensure the future of the organization.

“[This is so that it’s] possible that we can restart when the time comes and hopefully bring back everything we’ve taken off the calendar,” Lloyd added. “The arts always live on a narrow margin and this is going to take a heavy toll on all of us who work in this field across the country.”

Those sentiments are also shared by the Folkmoot Executive Director Angie Schwab. The multifaceted cultural organization in Waynesville has had to cancel all upcoming musical and artistic performances on the calendar through April.

“The community can rest assured that Folkmoot will follow the guidelines by local public health officials and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and that we’ll do our part in maintaining good health,” Schwab said. “We’re [also] concerned about the artists who depend on performances as their main source of income and hope there are some good ideas that come out of this health crisis.”

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Some of those new ways and means for musicians and artists to survive financially involves live streaming shows from their homes and studios, with “virtual tip jars” available through services like PayPal and Patreon.

“We’re very thankful for a good internet connection to keep in touch with folks, a website setup for downloads as well as shippable sales, and lots of music to work on,” said Allie Lee, who is one-half of Frank & Allie Lee, a traditional string act from Bryson City. “We will be streaming [concerts] for fun, [and] partly to stay ‘in shape’ musically, and partly to test the waters for more streaming concerts in the near future.”

Aside from seemingly every live music concert disappearing from venues, breweries and restaurants for the foreseeable coming weeks and months, all spring and early summer festivals have either been canceled and postponed, too. This also includes the massively popular MerleFest in Wilkesboro, which was to hit the stage in late April.

“Alternative revenue streams, creativity with merchandising, live streaming, and digital media use can help bridge the financial gap until the ‘new normal’ resumes,” said Steve Johnson, formerly of MerleFest, who now is behind the inaugural Earl Scruggs Music Festival set to take place in Tryon on Labor Day Weekend. “Artistic philanthropic support is more critical now than ever with many still reeling from the Nashville tornado damage and now cancellation of shows. Everyone needs to pull together and use those creative minds for developing paradigm shifting solutions.”

“We were going to play our first MerleFest,” added Caroline Miller, bassist for Americana/indie group The Maggie Valley Band. “We had been so shocked and over the moon that we’d been invited. We’ve lost many gigs [throughout this pandemic], but that one is a soul crusher.”

With recent mandates and curfews to close restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries and other high-volume gathering spots occurring state-by-state as this pandemic unfolds, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper followed suit on Tuesday by closing “restaurants and bars for dine-in customers, but [allowing] them to continue takeout and delivery orders,” effective immediately. The executive order also included an expansion of unemployment insurance to provide aid to those workers being affected by the closures.

“This is a very scary time for our business, staff and community. Our main goal going forward is to protect the health of our staff and community,” said Nicole Dexter, co-owner of Innovation Brewing in Sylva. “And try to sustain the livelihoods of the 23 people we employ during this time of potentially no income for the business. We’ll be doing everything in our power to achieve these goals, but there are many unknowns to prepare for currently.”

And as the shutdown of the service industry now overtakes North Carolina, small business owners are concerned what this could mean for the far western counties of the state — a place where the service industry is a huge economic driver within a region that relies on tourism.

"We expected a mandatory shutdown of all bars, restaurants, taprooms, breweries and wineries,” said Joe Rowland, co-owner of Nantahala Brewing, which has locations in Bryson City and Sylva and a staff of 40. “This will help reduce the curve of this unprecedented pandemic, but it will also bankrupt nearly all of us as a result."
Though it may be an incredibly difficult position, restaurant owners are already considering layoffs and other options to keep businesses afloat for the time being.
“We want to provide the opportunity for our staff to make money, but at the same time, [we’re] worrying about hopefully breaking even or losing money — it's a tough situation,” said Nathan Lowe, co-owner of The Southern Porch in Canton. “We’re torn on what to do. We want to provide a place for people to feel safe and comfortable, but we also worry about the number of people gathering together in one building and putting others at risk.”

“It’s scary thinking of the economic effects this may have on our own livelihood as well as our staff of five. It’s really hard to tell right now. But, we’re preparing for the worst,” added Hannah Moore Edwards, co-owner of Yonder in Franklin. “We’re taking extra precaution within our establishment and holding extra meetings with our staff members and outlining just how serious this is.”

With a staff of 34, The Sweet Onion in Waynesville is also implementing similar measures as it prepares for a severe ripple in the financial stability of the business.
“As of now, it’s just a matter of trying to figure out how much we can sustain as a business — we’ll see what the future holds and how all of this plays out,” said Dan Elliot, co-owner of The Sweet Onion.

The Small Business Administration announced Monday that it would be able to provide small businesses impacted by COVID-19 up to $2 million in low-interest disaster assistance loans.
These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for nonprofits is 2.75 percent.

For additional information, contact the SBA disaster assistance customer service center at 800.659.2955 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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