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 and all-star panelist Crom Carmichael welcomed the owner of Nashville Boutique Venues Dan Cook to the newsmakers line.
During the third hour, Cook described his attempts to contact Mayor John Cooper’s office to discuss the phase openings and how it’s negatively impacted his business. He expressed his disappointment that he has not received any type of return communication from the mayor’s office after several attempts but appeared hopeful with the local media attention he’s been able to attain.
Leahy: We are joined now by Dan Cook, the owner of a couple of really great venues here in Nashville. Clementine and Ruby’s. Good morning Dan.
Cook: Good morning gentlemen, how are you?
Leahy: So Dan, Mayor John Cooper has that on Monday we’ll move into phase two. What does that mean for your businesses?
Cook: Well you know obviously we are heading in the right direction but as you may recall in phase two gatherings which are weddings and other private events we’re slated to move to 50 people not to exceed adding events. Mayor Cooper actually reduced that number in phase two from 50 to 25. So my lobbying efforts over the last week have gone in the opposite direction apparently.
Leahy: Hold it. He was going to move it before you started lobbying he was going to move it to 50 and then after you finished he reduced it to 25? Do I have that right?
Cook: Yeah. You know we have a petition out because 50 is uneconomic for our industry of 20,000 who are of course out of work. We’ve gotten on a bunch of news channels and it’s hard not to attribute this to some kind of spite. There is no logical rationale.
Leahy: None whatsoever. This is stunning. You want basically no limit I guess on the number?
Cook: No. No. We don’t mind a limit. As you recall I guess on Monday when we moved to phase two restaurants and retailers can operate at 75% capacity. And this Friday, today when your unemployed you forget the day of the week, but today the entire state can open at 100% capacity. So restaurants just down the road in Williamson County can be open today at 100% and so can retailers.
Leahy: Did you every personally talk to the mayor about this?
Cook: We have tried every way conceivable to get to the mayor. We’ve tried our council members. They have gotten it to his office but no one from his administration has called us, reached out to us, or offered any sort of explanation.
Leahy: Did they explain why they decreased it from 50 to 25?
Cook: No. No. At the press conference yesterday a reporter asked the mayor that question directly and boy he pulled out a grab bag of political speak but there was no answer.
Carmichael: Dan, are you trying to approach them on your own or is there an association of venues here in Nashville?
Cook: No, there’s not an association. I’m trying to reach them really as a point person for again the 20,000 in this ecosystem.
Carmichael: OK. And the media in this town has been receptive to asking you questions on air?
Cook: They have. We actually appeared on News Channel 2, News Channel 4, Fox News. We were in The Nashville Post, I believe it was yesterday. And I expect to be on other platforms in the next couple of days.
Carmichael: Good for them because that’s local news and it’s important. 20,000 people’s livelihoods matter. I’ve only met the mayor one time and he seems like a logical guy. I mean, he really does. This is just kind of disappointing because in Nashville for example there have only been 51 deaths in three months.
And when I say only 51 there are 8,000 deaths a year in Davidson County every year anyway. So there are 750 deaths or 700 deaths every month in Davidson County from some other reason. And the deaths that are happening are almost exclusively in the 75 years and older age group.
And so it would seem like your venues when you have an event at your venue you know exactly who’s entering. There are so many reasons that you ought to be able to open. These are weddings. They are families. Our daughter got married on May 4 of last year. And we had a wonderful time.
And we have friends who have sons and daughters that are now having to postpone their weddings because of the coronavirus. And it just does a lot of emotional and family harm. Not to mention the economic harm that it’s doing to 20,000 people.
Cook: Yes. It’s really devastating. There are a lot of stories to tell you. I received a call from a dear friend of mine in the industry two days ago who was almost in tears and said that she did not want to lose her business after building it for 25 years and didn’t know what to do. And those kinds of stories I hear every day.
But Crom, to your point earlier this morning about contact tracing. I think we can all agree it’s a joke and a red herring. However, in my industry it is perhaps the only industry where contact tracing could work because everyone that comes to one of our events is invited. Well here’s are theory.
The theory goes that because the mayor’s healthcare advisory group can actually use contact tracing to trace infected people back to my venue or any venue where private events happen we have that hung around our hand. Whereas if somebody gets the virus at a restaurant, or Green Hills Mall, or at a bar, or at a movie theater, they’ll never know where they got it. So we get disproportionately penalized in the eyes of the mayor’s advisory group. So I think that could be their rational.
Leahy: But they are not telling you their rationale.
Cook: They are not telling us the rationale.
Leahy: That’s transparency right there.
Carmichael: You all could very easily take people’s temperatures before they come in. You see signs on the doors of every venue you go into where it says that if you are coughing and have a fever don’t come in. And things like that. And these events are people who know each other.
Why on earth would somebody with a fever and coughing want to attend an event with friends and family? They just simply wouldn’t want to. I’m really really distressed. And I will say this, my grandfather was the Chancellor of Vanderbilt many many years ago and my dad was dean of students and I would like to think that Vanderbilt was more rational and logical in those days than they are now.
There are some decisions that come out of Vanderbilt that are real head-scratchers. The doctor who is the mayor’s chief head health doctor is a bone doctor. He’s not even an infectious disease specialist.
Leahy: Dr. Alex Jahangir.
Carmichael: He seems to be a little drunk with power. I’ve seen him interviewed on TV and unfortunately, he’s not asked tough questions. What do you say to the 20,000 people who have lost their livelihoods because of your policies? Pretend they are right in front of you. Tell us what you would say to them.
That’s a fair question to ask somebody who is hurting people with their policies. That’s a very fair question. In fact the mayor needs to be asked that question because these policies do not make sense given the science and given the data.
Leahy: Dan, how much is this governmental action costing your business?
Cook: Well, added up for all intents and purposes we’ve been shut down for five to seven months so that is half of my revenue this year will get eliminated. And what the future brings, who knows. A lot of people are reticent to have events going forward.
Leahy: Do you believe you have the cause of legal action against the city?
Cook: I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know the response there but it’s something we will look at when the dust settles. For now we’re trying to get on with business. I tell ya, as each new phase happens we are noticing new moral hazards.
The interesting development this week with the announcement of phase two and the opening of the rest of the state is that any wedding that wants to cancel today has three great options. They can go five minutes down the road to another county.
Cook: And all the venues are wide open by the way.
Carmichael: That’s a great point.
Cook: We have to stay closed. You could have this in your backyard or you could buy out a restaurant in Davidson County.
Leahy: You can buy out a restaurant in Williamson County and do it there?
Leahy: Wow. Unequal treatment for your business. Dan Cook will you come back next Friday and tell us what’s going on?
Cook: Absolutely. I love you guys. I’ll be back.
Carmichael: I really do applaud the media for having him on and I hope they’ll have some of the other people like this lady who’s losing her 25-year businesses. It’s just so terrible.
Listen to the full second 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.