While not entirely unexpected, the announcement this week that it could be 12 months before dancing was permitted in Tasmanian venues was just another kick in the guts for Bakers Lane co-owner Stella Thomson.
The venue has spent several months attempting to adapt to the new rules – adding 12 evenly-spaced small tables to its dance floor, and arranging for Hungrybear to use the kitchen – but Ms Thomson said it was going to be a tough ask to survive.
“We’re lucky that we have a kitchen, but the market is already flooded with food venues and delivery businesses. There’s already so many sit down bars in Launceston as well,” she said.
“We’re known for providing that safe party environment for so many, but we’ve had to adapt our whole business model because we don’t have a dance floor now.”
The venue’s capacity has reduced from 200 to 94 due to the restrictions, and while it was able to access $5000 in support from the government, it barely covered outstanding bills and rent.
With the state’s borders strictly controlled and no community transmission of COVID, Ms Thomson said Bakers Lane would be able to provide a safe environment with staff and security making sure patrons adhered to the rules. She said in that environment, dancing should be allowed.
“Given the regulations that are in place for hospitality venues, I don’t think it’s unachievable to have a safe dance floor,” she said.
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“Our venue already has the staff needed to guarantee a safe space. And if people aren’t adhering to the restrictions, we can remove them. You can’t do that at a house party.
“I don’t see the difference with not being allowed to dance, but being allowed to play contact sport, go to the swimming pool – especially when we have RSA and social distancing in place.”
Bakers Lane plans to reopen in early September and is hopes to host seated events with local musicians, but Ms Thomson said it would be difficult to make the business model profitable. The venue confirmed that the state government had not contacted it in regards to its viability or the impact of restrictions.
Entertainment industry facing decimation
It was the same story for Adrian Barrett, who owns Eight Oh Eight, providing event resources to Northern Tasmania’s live music and entertainment industry with dozens of venues and events on its books. He also had received no contact or support from the government.
Mr Barrett said the only positive from the dancing announcement was that it provided at least some certainty, rather than continually “dangling the carrot of normality”.
“The bigger problem we had, which has caused more issues than anything else in the past five months, has been the uncertainty,” he said.
“We have to continually put time and resources into shifting shows, cancelling shows, reimbursing ticket sales – that’s caused more issues than any lockdown.
“But now that we have a set of guidelines, a timeframe, we understand what we’re working with.”
He estimated the cost of running events had increased 450 per cent, including the need for marshals and additional security, adding extra seating, more staff and insurance costs, coupled with decreased capacities. Mr Burnett said few would bother – and it was having flow-on effects for Tasmania’s entertainment industry which has experienced mass job losses.
Star Bar in Launceston is among Mr Barrett’s clients, but it, too, has had to stop having DJ sets.
Owner Sarah Goss said they were fortunate to have a restaurant, function area and a bar for cocktails, allowing their business model to gear towards dining service. The loss of the weekend nightclub trade had hurt, however.
“But we’re thinking of places like Bakers Lane and Lonnies where it’s a lot harder for them to make that transition,” she said. “Who doesn’t love going to a live music venue – even a soloist or band or DJ – it’s always amazing, so it’s a shame we can’t do it. But you saw what happened in NSW. You don’t want to be that pub.”
Lonnies Niteclub weighing up its options
Without access to a kitchen, the doors of Lonnies Niteclub have been shut since COVID reached Tasmania.
The club’s owner said he was reluctant to make too many changes without knowing what the future held. He had no plans to shut down or sell, however.
“You just don’t know if the industry is going to come back, and what it’ll look like. We’re basically at the mercy of if there’s a vaccine,” he said.
“With enough money you could do anything in here, but we wouldn’t want to invest into something when you have no idea what’s going to happen in the future.”
Opening for sitting patrons only was also not in his plans.
“You go to a pub or nightclub to chill and relax. If you have someone constantly telling you to sit down or have someone watching you, you don’t get the right atmosphere,” he said.
The venue confirmed that it, too, had not been contacted by the state government.
Small Business Minister Sarah Courtney said she had spoken to “a number of nightclub operators”.
“We’re going to continue to work with those businesses that are impacted and look at ways that we can ensure that we are safe during COVID, but also have a sustainable economy going forward after that,” she said.
“I know this is a very challenging time for them.”