Editorial: Incidentals are Essential

Written by on August 21, 2020

A recent ruling by the New York State Liquor Authority has all but made live entertainment illegal.

Venues, who are already suffering from the effects of the pandemic, are now being crushed by the very agency in charge of their licensing. These establishments are in many ways the lifeblood of the local community and now they face yet another hurdle to their very survival.

I will emphatically state that COVID is Real!!! I will also stand by the statement that economic ruin is REAL and that is what this edict will bring.

Since March, we as a population, have been dealing with a daily onslaught of disease, misfortune, divisive political opinions and fear. For many people the arts and especially music are a respite from daily life. The people who create music are usually not famous, not rich and most likely your neighbor. Musicians do what they do for the love of the craft and often as a supplemental income to make ends meet. In short, local music is a community service and one that is needed, especially now.

The argument will be made that these rules are issued for our safety. OK…to a point. Numbers are falling. People, by in large, are following protocols and being compliant. I personally have seen patrons at local establishments admonish other customers who fail to do so. Are there bad apples and damned fools? Yes! But they are an exception and not the norm. So, the state government’s reaction is to punish the entire “class” rather than deal with establishments that will not comply. This is not only draconian but foolhardy. Didn’t the SLA just recently “deputize” personnel from other departments to help with enforcement? And if a ruling like this has to be made, doesn’t this prove that the action in itself was futile? Why is it futile, perhaps because the “deputies” are not properly trained in enforcement techniques or they just aren’t fulfilling their mission. So, the state responds by putting down the hammer.

Let’s now discuss the economic ramifications of this move. The first effected are musicians and performers, as comedy and dance are also forbidden. Do not be distracted by this effect, it is only the beginning. Musicians need a place to play. Those places are called venues. These establishments are often owned by a local individual or family and they have had an extremely hard time just keeping their doors open since the beginning of this event. Many establishments have been allowed to open at 50% capacity and they are doing their best to make this work but simple economics make long term viability a huge question mark. The additional cost of COVID protocols, the food requirement and the cost of labor make a slim profit margin almost invisible. Live entertainment is often the only way to bring extra people out and into an establishment.
You will say but the businesses got PPP loans, and many did, but many did not. The businesses who did receive loans are now out of funds. They believed the loan would hold them over until the crisis passed but this crisis seems too have no end. If you have ever known a small business owner, you know that the owner is usually the last person paid, as a rule, they take care of everyone else first. The PPP program required a Schedule C form to be eligible and many small business owners didn’t have said form because they live off what is left or put the money all back into their business with the hope of a future payout. That is just the reality, a reality that Washington and Albany will never understand.

Let’s talk about the ripple effect of this latest action from Albany. The hobbling of the local music and performance scene will have far reaching repercussions. New York State establishments can not even advertise a musical act and if they do book a performance they cannot charge a cover, have a ticketed event and music must be “incidental” and not “draw”. Why book any band or act that doesn’t “draw’. This seems counterintuitive. But, then again, nobody in office has ever been in that position.

Let’s say musicians can’t play, venues close. Guess what happens next. RIPPLE EFFECT. When a venue closes, people lose their jobs, owners go bankrupt, businesses close and then the dominoes begin to fall. Every business has suppliers, and they are in turn impacted by these closures. Beer and wine distributors, food service suppliers, insurance companies, Spectrum, National Grid, landlords, and the list of the effected goes on. The employees that have lost their jobs will no longer be able to meet their obligations, thus the ripple grows.

Governments make money by one and only one device, taxes. Has the state considered that they are spiting themselves through this action? This will cause a severe drop in the sales tax income collected by NYS. How will they make up this shortfall?

This is not a political editorial. I do not car about what party you belong to. I care about small business, musicians and my friends. This is about jobs at the most local level. This is about the freedom the arts offer. I ask my readers to call your state and local representatives and save this vital industry.

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