MOORHEAD — The Fargo Theatre closed its doors in March at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and recently, after federal support dollars ran out, the famous movie house had to let go all but one of its part-time staff, though all four full-time staff members remain on the payroll.
"Right now, our building is quiet and dark. These are the parts of normal life that we want to make sure are waiting for us when the storm has passed," Fargo Theatre Executive Director Emily Beck said Wednesday morning, Sept. 2, during a news conference promoting the "Save Our Stages Act," proposed federal legislation introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Wednesday's event was held on the stage of the Bluestem Amphitheater in Moorhead, which, like the Fargo Theatre and many other live venues across the country, has essentially gone dark because of the coronavirus pandemic.
For the Fargo Theatre, the shutdown will likely mean a loss of $580,000 in revenue this year, according to Beck.
Now, he said, everyone is out of work, including himself.
"We're all basically laid off," Nielsen said.
Klobuchar, who hosted the gathering along with U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., a co-sponsor of the legislation, said the aim of the "Save Our Stages Act" is to provide Small Business Administration grants to small venues for six months, with the assistance carrying a cap of 45% of an operation's annual revenue.
Without such help, Klobuchar said, small venues may close for good or be swallowed up by large competitors.
If that happens, she said, it would be a blow to small towns in Minnesota and elsewhere around the country.
"It's like losing our soul," said Klobuchar, who added that backers of the proposed legislation hope it will be inserted into legislation already approved by the U.S. House.
Peterson, who formed a band in the 1960s and has performed with Willie Nelson at Farm Aid concerts, said the pandemic has been hard on venues like Bluestem and musicians in general, who he said are finding it more and more difficult to find places to play their music.
"Where you have a beautiful place like this, we want to make sure we keep it going," Peterson said.
Moorhead Mayor Johnathan Judd agreed, stating venues like Bluestem and the crowds they draw have a significant impact on the health of every business in a community.
"If we can save our stages, it's going to save our economy," Judd said.