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Relief is on the way for venues in Spokane and around the country

March 10, 2021 Updated Thu., March 11, 2021 at 7:39 a.m.

The Flying Goat chef Adam Shove removes a pizza from the oven Wednesday in Spokane. Restaurants and venues will be eligible for grants under the stimulus bill approved Wednesday by Congress.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Flying Goat chef Adam Shove removes a pizza from the oven Wednesday in Spokane. Restaurants and venues will be eligible for grants under the stimulus bill approved Wednesday by Congress. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A film was shot around the Garland Theater in January and February, but a movie hasn’t been screened at the 76-year-old venue since March 2020.

“When I’m in there it feels like the theater is sleeping,” Garland owner Katherine Fritchie said while calling from her Browne’s Addition home. “It just doesn’t feel right.”

Perhaps the Garland will emerge from its slumber at some point in 2021 courtesy of the American Rescue Act. The bailout, which was passed by Congress and now awaits President Biden’s signature, is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package pressed by democrats to expedite the United States recovery from the economic and health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s a great program,” Fritchie said. “I’m excited about it. I didn’t apply for the second round of PPP funds because I was hoping to get this grant. It’s much better to receive a grant than a loan.”

The stimulus package includes a $28.6 billion “restaurant revitalization fund,” which will be used for grants of up to $5 million for individual restaurants and $10 million for restaurant groups; $5 billion of the fund is reserved for small businesses with total earnings of less than $500,000 in 2019.

Congress authorized a $15 billion grant program for concert venues and movie theaters as part of its previous relief package in December. The new stimulus bill adds $1.25 billion to that fund, but the Small Business Administration, which operates the program, has yet to distribute any of that money or even establish an application process.

Under the terms of the program, concert venues are eligible for grants equal to up to 45% of their gross revenue, up to a maximum of $10 million.

This year figures to be challenging for venues as the pandemic continues even though vaccines have arrived. Fritchie looks at aid as an essential life preserver for her business.

“It’s exceptionally necessary,” Fritchie said. “Even if we reopen the box office, the numbers are so low now for theaters. It doesn’t make financial sense to open.”

However, Fritchie does hope that the Garland will greet customers at some point in 2021.

“I would love that to be a reality,” Fritchie said. “I’m ecstatic about the aid.”

Brandon Hare, the general manager of The Flying Goat, is thrilled about federal assistance as well.

“We’re excited about any sort of relief after the year we’ve had,” Hare said from the artisan pizza restaurant, which opened in 2010. “Restaurants can use all the help we can get.”

Restaurants received some assistance from the December stimulus, but it wasn’t on a level like the grants in the new bill. The good news for restaurants is that the Senate version of the bill added more money for restaurants than was in the original House version.

Help is on the way, but it hasn’t been easy for restaurants to stay afloat. “It hasn’t been easy but we’ve continued to evolve,” Hare said. “We’ve had no choice but to reinvent our business. We added a whole new curbside pickup system and we redid our patio.”

Six overhead gas heaters enabled The Flying Goat to survive the winter.

“We did what we had to do,” Hare said. “The heaters enabled us to have outdoor dining. Who could have predicted this? We certainly didn’t at this time last March. The fact that any relief is coming is certainly welcome. This industry has taken such a beating. Since funds are on the way, we’re excited that it will help resuscitate our industry and it will help Spokane. This is such a great thing for small businesses.”

It’s also good for bigger businesses, such as the Spokane Arena, which has been dormant for a year.

“We’ve been watching this for months,” Spokane Arena and First Interstate Center for the Arts Entertainment Director Matt Meyer said. “We’ve been getting ready by getting all of our financials in order to apply immediately. This will help save so many venues and businesses.

“It’s essential since the last 12 months have been a nightmare. We were coming off of two of our biggest years and then nothing. It will have an obvious positive impact for our venues. We’re hoping to get anything at this point. It will be interesting to see how it works out in terms of how much money we all receive. We’re looking forward to bringing our employees back and helping improve the economy of Spokane. I’m looking forward to not just seeing our venues open up but also other venues in our city.”

Like the Garland Theater, which is overdue to emerge from its hibernation.

“It’s been too long since we’ve been closed,” Fritchie said. “Thanks to this act, it will make it easier to come back.”

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