CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland Foundation ice rink in downtown Cleveland is usually a highlight of the winter months. On a good day, ice skaters of all ages twirl across the ice in front of Tower City.
But no ice skaters will grace Public Square this year, due to recent surges of coronavirus cases in Ohio. The Group Plan Commission, the organization that coordinates programming and operations of Public Square, announced on Wednesday that it would not open the ice skating rink as originally planned.
The announcement came around the same time that Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and the county Board of Health issued a stay-at-home advisory in Cuyahoga County.
The advisory asks Cuyahoga County residents to stay at home except for essential needs like for work, school and trips to the grocery store and pharmacy. It does not mandate business closures or event cancellations, but many of Cleveland’s entertainment venues and cultural organizations are already grappling with that kind of decision.
The skating rink is usually a highlight of Winterfest — an event that has moved to a TV broadcast on WKYC-3 on Nov. 28 in lieu of a large gathering downtown. But other aspects of the festival, like horse and carriage rides, are currently under review.
“Our organization understands the complexity [of this]. We’re facing something that we’ve never faced before,” said Sanaa Julien, the CEO of the Group Plan Commission.
Others are facing similarly difficult decisions.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland announced Wednesday that it would close its doors immediately due to the advisory.
“For the safety of our staff and visitors, MOCA is closed to the public effective immediately based on Cuyahoga County’s new resolution and related stay-at-home advisory,” said MOCA creative director Tom Poole in a statement. “We will continue connecting with audiences through our digital and delivery-based programs, and look forward to a time soon when we can welcome visitors back to the building.”
More closures are likely. Jon Forman, the owner of Cleveland Cinemas, said he’s currently deciding what to do for his various movie theaters located in several counties in Northeast Ohio.
Two of his movie theaters (Cedar-Lee and Chagrin Cinemas) have been open to the public since August, while his other theaters (Capitol and Apollo) have remained closed. One Cleveland Cinemas property, Tower City Cinemas, closed permanently during the pandemic.
“The stay-at-home advisory for Cuyahoga County, where the Cedar-Lee Theatre is located, is unfortunate but not surprising. Apparently, a similar advisory hasn’t been issued for Geauga County (at least not yet), where we operate Chagrin Cinemas,” Forman said in an emailed statement to cleveland.com.
“We are evaluating our plans as we want to be consistent to avoid confusing the public. We are reaching out to the many guests who have arranged for private rentals this weekend at both theaters, to see if they want to preserve or postpone their screenings.”
Similarly, SuperElectric Pinball Parlor — an arcade, restaurant and bar in Cleveland’s Gordon Square neighborhood — will determine its best course of action based on ongoing orders from the state, county and city levels, said business co-owner David Spasic.
“We’re in it with everybody. We’re concerned with peoples’ safety,” Spasic said. “When I see orders like that come through, part of me is saying, ‘This is great, this is how we keep people safe’ — and the other part of me is saying, ‘How do we survive through this as a business?’”
SuperElectric has been open to the public for the last few weeks with distancing and sanitization policies in place. But, as COVID-19 has surged in Ohio, Spasic said he’s seen a drop in business.
“We saw a pretty steep decline this past weekend,” Spasic said. “We haven’t talked it over so much, but we’ll just follow along with whatever orders the city does put out. We’ll take them under consideration when we’re planning for the future.”
Planning for the future is a tough thing to do for anyone in the entertainment scene, and especially for those in the live music industry. Cleveland’s independent venue owners have worked to follow guidelines and limit capacity in their spaces for small, safe events in the era of COVID-19. But often, that’s easier said than done.
The Grog Shop announced Wednesday that it would temporarily shut its doors due to the recent virus surge.
The Cleveland Heights music venue had previously been hosting reduced-capacity weekly concerts featuring local bands, but when venue owner Kathy Blackman heard from bands and customers that they weren’t comfortable going to an event, she decided to put a pause on the series with an intent to bring it back.
“There are five or six shows left in that series that we 100% are planning on doing, when we are able. Whether that’s mid-January or mid-March, we will make them happen,” Blackman said. “At this point I’m not going to do anything until we’re sure it’s safe and it’s viable and people are comfortable coming out, the staff is comfortable being there and bands are comfortable playing.”
Similarly, Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom has been essentially shut down with limited activity in recent weeks, meaning it was already ahead of the stay-at-home advisory’s implications for venues. Venue co-owner Cindy Barber said she had backed off of business due to tour cancelations and nearby states’ shutdowns.
“We are already backing off again… We’ve canceled basically everything that’s coming up,” she said. “Right now we’re just negotiating — are we going to do part of these things as a livestream, with just a few people in the room? We’re trying to figure out if we can even do that.”
Barber said that the Beachland Ballroom had only just started getting back to live music in recent weeks, with small tours in Northeast Ohio that were socially distanced within the venue. The Beachland was even checked by an Ohio task force, and didn’t get a fine or citations, at a recent event.
“We’re doing what we should do,” Barber said. “But with this new surge, I don’t think any of us feel right about risking our staff and audiences. It’s just too prevalent. We now know people that have gotten this. We need to be extra cautious right now.”
Mahall’s, a music venue, bowling alley, restaurant and bar in Lakewood, will take a close look at the stay-at-home advisory, and will likely look to ease back on events and other aspects of business, said Mahall’s co-owner Kelly Flamos.
“Mahall’s will try to be a part of the solution in stopping the spread,” Flamos said. “I have kids in school. It’s really frustrating because we stayed closed so long over the summer to make sure kids could go back to school … I feel like, as a business owner, I would prioritize schools being able to be open over Mahall’s being able to be open.”
Flamos said she may consider a period of temporary closure for the venue in the coming weeks.
“[It’s] this idea of hibernating a little bit, at least during the holiday season, so we’re not contributing to the spread,” she said. “I think we’re all pretty much on the same page at Mahall’s about being safety-first.”
Though Mahall’s has had a tough year of business, it found community support after launching a Kickstarter fundraiser in August. The fundraiser ended up bringing in more than $35,000 for the venue.
Grassroots efforts like fundraisers and merchandise sales have helped keep many music venues afloat.
One of those fundraisers is an ongoing music memorabilia auction that will donate 100% of its earnings to local live music venues — it currently lists items and experiences from Grog Shop, Beachland Ballroom, Happy Dog and more.
Many independent music venue owners have also pushed for financial relief from federal or state programs, with bills like “Save Ohio Stages” and more, to provide crucial funds for these tough months where they may need to remain shut down due to the pandemic.
In the meantime, they hope to get back to doing what they do best, sooner rather than later.
“I just hope people will wear a mask and will help get this under control so businesses like us can slowly get going again. We want to provide music. We want to provide experiences and we were doing it right,” Barber said about the Beachland Ballroom. “But we just can’t risk our staff and we can’t risk our community.”
Cleveland.com reporters Troy L. Smith and Eric Heisig contributed to this story.