Martin McConnell
A Save Our Stages sign hangs on the wall of the B-Side Liquor Lounge in the basement of the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Save Our Stages pop-up shop helps Cleveland music venues survive the pandemic

As the host of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, music is the heartbeat of Cleveland’s nightlife. But COVID-19 has battered that scene.

In a bid to support local acts, city venues in September held a pop-up shop in the basement of Coventry’s Grog Shop, known as the B-side Liquor Lounge.

The pop-up shop supported 10 different venues from around the greater Cleveland area. The initiative was part of the National Independent Venue Association’s Save Our Stages act. 

“It’s been hard [for us], but all the venues have been communicating since March,” said Kelly Flamos, 34, co-owner of Mahall’s 20 Lanes in Lakewood, one of the contributors.

Greater Cleveland is dotted with venues like the century-old Mahall’s in Lakewood. But many of these small stages have struggled to stay open under the weight of financial losses from the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to the pop-up shop, many venues have begun using their space for different, social-distancing friendly events.

Flamos explained how Mahall’s has been using their space to host exhibits from Antwoine Washington’s Museum of Creative Human Art.

Mahall’s has also opened a Kickstarter campaign in order to “keep the lights on.” Their campaign has raised over $35,000 from nearly 650 different supporters. More information on the Kickstarter campaign can be found here.

Other venues that took part in the pop-up shop included the Winchester Music Tavern in Lakewood, which has found ways to keep its business running relatively normally despite the pandemic.

“We’re lucky because we have a larger showroom, so we can still hold about 50 people,” said Erica Thompson, a bartender at the Winchester Music Tavern, and the venue’s representative at the pop-up shop event. “Normally our back [room] can hold around 300.”

With restaurant service seven days a week, and a punk rock-inspired happy hour it's calling “Angry Hour,” Thompson noted that the “tavern” part of Winchester Music Tavern has become more important than ever during the pandemic. 

“We also still run our Saturday and Sunday brunches,” Thompson said. “And those are busier than ever.”

Each of the venues at the Save Our Stages pop-up shop is handling the pandemic in their own way. But with over 1,000 supporters on Facebook, initiatives like the Save Our Stages pop-up shop could be the adrenaline shot that local venues around the city need to weather the pandemic.