On Friday’s Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed the owner of Nashville Boutique Venues Dan Cook to the newsmakers line.
During the third hour, Cook explained where his business falls in the convoluted phases of reopening in Nashville stating that he has been unable to get anywhere at Mayor John Cooper’s office and in desperation has reached out to local media.
Leahy: I’m here with Crom Carmichael all-star panelist in the studio and joined on the line by Dan Cook. Dan is the owner of Nashville Boutique Venues. Two great venues. Ruby in the Hillsboro District and Clementine in the Sylvan Park area. And these are venues for events from 30 people to 500 people. Dan, Mayor John Cooper apparently doesn’t want you to make a living.
Cook: Good morning guys. Thanks for having me on this morning. It’s pretty early in the morning for those of us who are still forcibly unemployed by the mayor. (Leahy laughs) I need another cup of coffee. We like all businesses that are subject to, oh gosh its convoluted four-phase matrix. You probably have seen it.
It is a creation of government. And it’s kind of like, bingo you never know where you are going to end up. But we find ourselves in sub-column A somewhere buried and assigned a reopening allocation of people that we can have in our building and it makes absolutely no sense.
So really what it comes down to is we’re shuttered until phase four but during that time boy, all the restaurants are open. All the retail stores. Green Hills Mall. Bars are even open down on Broadway before we can open up for even a 100 person wedding. It’s crazy.
Leahy: Isn’t there a time lag here in terms of planning these things. Don’t people have to plan venues out for months at a time?
Cook: I’ve had a number of these conversations and you know it always comes around to Dan, what’s in it for you. Are you doing this only for venues? And my answer is no. Ever since I started having these conversations with people weeks ago that I’d had enough.
I’m really speaking for a community that is about 20,000 people in this town. I’m talking about photographers, florists, caterers, waiters, DJs, bands, wedding coordinators, calligraphers. It goes on and on and on. And you know not only are there a lot of people. And these are people who are typically not deriving unemployment insurance because they are self-employed. So these people are flat on their backs. And when the mayor lets us open.
Leahy: When he deigns to allow you the privilege of opening.
Cook: Exactly. When we get the memo that we’re allowed to open like restaurants were allowed to open. Like retail was allowed to open on Monday. People aren’t walking in off the street to frequent my business. Imagine a bride. Once she gets the memo she’s got to send out invitations. Her guests have to book travel and hotel rooms. We’re talking about at least a three-month lag.
So the way I’m looking at it now is my business won’t be substantially open for probably two months. At three months on that and everybody in this 20,000 person eco-system is flat on their back for five months without unemployment insurance. It is a disaster. And what makes it even worse this could be corrected in this convoluted four-phase matrix of the mayor’s with literally a stroke of the pen. It is a zero-cost five-minute fix if they apply themselves.
Leahy: What do you recommend Dan?
Cook: (Scoffs) Let me give you an example of the injustice here. So we are, my private events venues are allowed to open up today with no more than 10 people at a private wedding. In phase two, which is gosh knows when the mayor will allow that to happen, we’re allowed to have up to 50 people.
And in phase three up to 100 people. And then some time in the distance phase four more than 100 people. However today, at a restaurant or a retailer they can open up to 50% capacity so that’s a percentage of their occupancy. Whereas I’m given a flat number. Let me put that in perspective.
When the government starts playing with numbers like this the moral hazard is severe. So imagine the biggest venue you can think of in town. Country Music Hall of Fame. The Skirmmerhorn. You name it. Today they can have a wedding with no more than 10 people. But if I have a bachelorette bus downtown that’s also a venue.
And they can have up to 10 people. So it is regardless of size. So we are treated as an industry totally different than retailers, restaurants, and even bars. In phase three the Honkey Tonks can open up at 50% capacity. And you’ve seen some of those which are four-story buildings. We’re talking about capacity over 1,000 people. And at that point in the future, I can have a wedding of no more than 100 people. That’s crazy.
Carmichael: What is your capacity in your venues? I see where you are headed and it makes, by the way, perfect sense to me that if the mayor putting people in the other businesses the limiting to a percentage of capacity it would seem that it should apply to you. What are the capacities of your two venues?
Cook: Great question. Ruby which is in Hillsboro village, the capacity there is 200 people. So relatively small. However at Clementine Hall on Charlotte Avenue in Sylvan Park, that has a capacity of 794. So even occupancy of 25% of our capacity would be fairly significant.
So that would essentially bump us up a phase or two in this convoluted reopening process. and what that does and if you think about this in economic terms it really cuts off that three month tail of uncertainty for brides.
Everyday everybody in my business is getting 10 calls from brides and corporate events that have booked three, five, and twelve months out in advance asking can I still have my event for fill in the blank. 215 people on July 28? And my answer is always I have no idea. Who knows what side of the bed the mayor is going to wake up on.
Carmichael: Your capacity is determined not by you but by the fire marshall is that correct?
Cook: That’s correct. Every single business in town has a capacity determined by the fire marshall.
Carmichael: It’s not you exaggerating your capacity so that you can get more people in. It’s just saying the fire marshall has said my venue can have 200. That’s my capacity. Restaurant’s fire marshall says a restaurant can have 200. So that’s their capacity.
Cook: That’s exactly right.
Carmichael: And in addition to that are you in a position when people come to a scheduled venue can you do some safety things as people come into the venue?
Cook: Yes. Absolutely. You were dead on there. Every restaurant and every retail store has an occupancy number given to them by the city. And they are all opening upon a percentage basis as we discussed. I do occasionally get asked about health and safety and what we can do.
Of course, we can implement all the health and safety measures that a retail store, a restaurant, or a bar implement. But further, let me just tell you that those are public-facing businesses. Anybody, you or I can walk in off the street and enter a restaurant. However, at my businesses, they are all private events.
Carmichael: Yes. They are invited, guests.
Cook: They are invited guests so a lot of people already know each other. The important thing to know is because I have a contract with a client, let’s say a bride, excuse the analogy, I have one throat to choke here. So if I need to implement a measure I can do that with greater certainty than a public-facing business.
Leahy: What is the solution here? What do you want us to do to help you get back in business?
Cook: You are fantastic! Obviously we have a great community there that have all been making phone calls. I have to say that coming on this show and really going to the media has been an act of desperation on our part. The mayor’s office has been really quiet. It’s not that they’ve come back with problems or questions or issues of any kind. It’s been crickets.
Carmichael: Are the TV stations the local stations, have you told them about your plight and the plight of 20,000 other Nashvillians?
Cook: I just learned that I got picked up on Channel 2 this morning and I haven’t seen it. I think Channel 4 and 5 may be shortly behind them. Maybe even Fox.
Carmichael: Good. Because they ought to be crusading on your behalf.
Leahy: Dan, will you come back next Friday with a report to see if you’ve made any progress and if the mayor’s office has talked to you and solved the problem?
Cook: Absolutely I’d love to come back. I’ll come back anytime you gentlemen want to have me.
Leahy: Next Friday at 7:15 a.m. Dan will give us his report. Thanks so much for joining us.
Listen to the third hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “The Clementine” by Nashville Boutique Venues.