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News >  Business

Spokane-area entertainment and arts community lives in uncertainty

UPDATED: Thu., March 26, 2020

The Movie and Dinner complex, adjacent to the Northern Quest Resort and Casino in Airway Heights, is one of dozens of entertainment venues shuttered during the coronavirus outbreak, shown Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2020. On March 19, all employees received an email notifying them they had been let go. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Movie and Dinner complex, adjacent to the Northern Quest Resort and Casino in Airway Heights, is one of dozens of entertainment venues shuttered during the coronavirus outbreak, shown Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2020. On March 19, all employees received an email notifying them they had been let go. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Jewelisa Darrera doesn’t know what she’s going to do. She’d been working at Movie and Dinner – first as a food runner, then as a server – since October. Then she received a text message March 15 from a co-worker who had been promoted to assistant manager in January.

“It said, ‘Hi all, I don’t have everybody’s number but I’ll do my best here,’” Darrera said. “M and D will be closed indefinitely, there are no plans to reopen anytime soon. I wish all you guys the best of luck in your job searching, and believe you’re all going to have success. … It was fun while it lasted.’”

Prior to that text message, Darrera said she had been under the impression it would only be temporarily shutdown because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

On March 19, all Movie and Dinner employees received a letter via email telling them they had been let go. Darrera, who has a 2-year-old, doesn’t qualify for unemployment because she doesn’t meet the required number of hours.

“It’s really hard right now since nobody else is really hiring, unless you want to expose yourself to getting the coronavirus, and I have a son, so that’s not really an option for me,” she said.

Peter White was in Las Vegas getting married to his longtime girlfriend when he received a text message from one of his co-workers at Movie and Dinner that everyone was laid off.

“Kind of put a damper on the wedding,” said White, who had been a bartender. “We went on the penny machines.”

White had worked with Safeway prior to Movie and Dinner and said he had an offer to return.

Spencer Jacobsen, Movie and Dinner senior vice president, said Movie and Dinner will reopen, and will try to hire back former employees – the question is when. Even once restaurants are allowed to reopen, Jacobsen still will have to wait for the studios to release their movies, and he said some have already postponed film openings to July.

“Typically you have about a two-week period to market a movie, so we hope we’ll hear a date when the movies will come back out,” Jacobsen said. “The idea is I would like to see some of them push those days back up. It would be something people could gather around.”

The case of Movie and Dinner raises the question of what entertainment venues will look like when Spokane starts to get back to business, and what will happen to their displaced workers in the meantime.

In the case of Magic Lantern, the five employees (four of whom are part time) will remain on payroll for the forseeable future, compensated for the number of hours they would have normally worked, said Joe Sheehan, manager of the downtown Spokane art-house cinema. Sheehan said Magic Lantern is lucky because it is owned by Saranac LLC, which is their landlord, and that offers some security.

Jeff vom Saal, Spokane Symphony executive director, said its staff has been reduced by 80%, but more will be laid off, perhaps even taking staff to zero.

“I think really the right thing is for me to go totally off payroll for a while and still do whatever I can do,” vom Saal said. “Right now, I’m the inefficiency in the system, and we’re spending money that we do not have.”

The musicians who have contracts with Spokane Symphony do not qualify for unemployment in their work with the symphony. Some of them have other work, some don’t, vom Saal said.

“I feel like I can barely sleep these days, because all I can do is think about this stuff and try to figure out what’s coming next,” vom Saal said.

He worries about the world people will come back to when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

“We’ll come back to a new reality, and I just worry about demands being a lot less,” vom Saal said. “They’ll have less money, they’ll be worried about if I go into a group, … the virus will come back and we’ll get sick and die. I just think every angle of that thing is not really ideal for an organization like ours.”

The Big Dipper owner Dawson Horner said that since the music venue is a mom-and-pop operation, it doesn’t have any employees, but she is worried about independent contractors they work with, such as sound engineers, who can’t collect unemployment.

“Some musicians are just trying to make it as musicians, they also don’t have unemployment to fall back on,” Horner said. “So there are people that I worry about, and people we work with that rely on some of our business for their income. There are people that I worry about even though we don’t have employees, per se.”

Rachel Dorfman, secretary-treasurer for Professional Musicians, Local 105American Federation of Musicians, wants people to know that musicians are the original giggers. The union represents 203 musicians in Spokane, but Dorfman said many more musicians are freelancers.

“Well, I mean, it’s a disaster, you know, everybody is losing some or a lot or all of their work,” Dorfman said. “There’s no work for the foreseeable future until this crisis is over. What’s really distressing for our membership is that musicians don’t qualify for unemployment insurance because we generally don’t meet the required contact hours.”

Hours spent practicing their craft do not count toward working hours for musicians: only shows or rehearsals for which they are paid do. However, many musicians also teach, and Dorfman said if someone wants to learn an instrument over video chat, there’s never been a better time. People can go to the union’s website to find instructors or donate to the union directly to help out-of-work musicians.

Lyle Morse played acoustic blues at Barrister Winery, Westwood Brewery in Rathdrum and Studio 107 in Coeur d’Alene before the virus outbreak. He was supposed to start playing at the Cosmic Cowboy in River Park Square. He’s a retired nurse, so he still has income. Morse, a member of the musician union’s executive board, said he’s worried about freelancers.

“As a union, we’ve been trying to figure out ways to do outreach to those folks to see what kind of resources we can tie them into,” Morse said. “It’s a frightening time, especially for those people who don’t have another job or any sort of established income.”

Spokane Comedy Club owner Adam Norwest said he had to let his employees go.

“Those 30 people are my kids in a way, and people I’m responsible for,” Norwest said. “I’m sad and scared for them, especially with the uncertainty of things. They’ll send me messages like, ‘Hey, are we going to open on this date?’ And I’ll say, ‘I hope so!’ And everything is so up in the air. Anxiety is the unknown, and there’s so much unknown right now.”

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