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Nightclub Confidential

Nightlife in the Wake of a Super Storm

November 15, 2012 By: Steve Lewis


“We get the storm of the century every 2 years now" said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a briefing about hurricane Sandy. This particular storm of the century has devastated the region taking lives, homes, belongings and a large part of the regions sense of security. For the club business it raises many questions about preparing for a future where this kind of event is possible and likely. Operators must consider increased insurance, weatherizing their establishments, emergency generators and even having a staff that lives nearby.

In the aftermath of the storm many places in dark areas operated sound systems with backup generators and served by candlelight. Drinks were often room temperature but spirits remained high. Establishments have suffered greatly as transportation to venues is problematical making it difficult getting their patrons back into the fold. Patrons can't get the gas they need and public transportation is still crippled. Even with these issues how do you address getting portions of the population excited about going out and spending while their neighbors are still suffering? Putting this catastrophic event behind us mentally and moving forward is as big a challenge as the repairs.

Gerard McNamee, Director/Curator, Webster Hall and owner of East Village Social says "we lost a million bucks.” He continued with “To better weather the next "Sandy" like storm we should be sure to have a big generator and keep our fingers crossed that we don't suffer another direct hit. I will also employ me Irish Mum to say a few extra prayers to ensure that the storm passes without much ado."  

Scott Sartiano, co-owner of Butter Group which includes 1OAK and Darby said "it had a huge effect but we do business in New York. We adapt and already know that nothing comes easy. I'm more concerned about people with personnel issues than I am my business issues."  

Frank Alessio is the Director of Operations at Hotel Chantelle located in New York’s Lower East Side, which was blacked out and flooded, saw Halloween revenues from The Michael Jackson Thriller Halloween Parade after party go down the drain, or... sewer. "We lost power until Friday around 6pm. We chose not to open Friday night as the area was still getting back on its feet. We opened Saturday and did a fundraiser as proceeds went to New Yorkers who were affected by Sandy."  

Halloween is one of the biggest nights for Jon Gabel, CEO of Joonbug.com. This year many celebrated on the Saturday before but his big event on Halloween at Capitale was in the hard hit Chinatown area. Sandy wiped out the lights downtown but spared much of the city. Gabel, like many New Yorkers reacted fast. "It made us move our 11th Annual Masquerade Ball at Capitale to Espace, but it still turned out to be great because we were one of the only parties in town still happening on Halloween day. The good news was that we got to execute the majority of our Halloween events on the Saturday before the storm, and thankfully those turned out to be a huge success" said Gabel. In the past when we've seen lesser degrees of weather disasters, it usually hurts the out of towners, but New Yorkers always find a way to get to the party. Jon now has New Years looming but will out of towners think twice about coming to NYC. Will the hit New Yorkers took to their pocket books or their psyche dampen New Years Spirits?

Gabel was lucky on Halloween as all over town events were cancelled and weekly parties closed. Fundraisers became a way to help out victims and to also tell the public venues were still here. Staff dependent on tips are falling behind on essentials and having trouble paying bills. Sandy will teach nightlife employees to put something aside for a very rainy day. DJ's couldn't travel out of town for gigs and those that came in often found a room devoid of juice to power sound. Adam Alpert co-owner of 4AM a DJ management agency said "Sandy was horrible for the nightclub business and hence DJs. Naturally, all the Halloween parties below 40th street were cancelled and very few were rescheduled. Also, several of our DJs flights to other cities were cancelled and thus had to be rerouted on different days to the next cities they were playing in. Luckily, we were able to reschedule most of the out of town gigs. Like the nightclubs, DJs and all other vendors and employees took a loss that cannot be recouped, and on a huge night like Halloween no less. In spite of this hardship to everyone we did not keep deposits or demand cancellation fees."

Veteran nightlife impresario, Paul Seres is a partner at DL which was a dark wet place until the miracle of light was returned. "We were fortunate enough to have only lost revenue whereas other business are going out of business. We are involved with helping others who faired much worse than lost revenues” stated Seres.

Restaurants without power cooked food that would have spoiled on open grills and gave it to hungry neighbors, big pots of chili made from generators helped those in need.  It's impossible to understand the gravity of the loss right now. The long term affects cannot be imagined. Will suburbia who found themselves partying locally because there wasn't enough fuel around to get them back and forth to the half empty New York venues get used to their local nightlife and spend more time in months to come near home? Will many business' close because the recovery can't come fast enough? Will staffers return home to wherever they came from and give up their NY dreams because they can no longer pay bills? Will insurance rates skyrocket? Will investors get...cold feet? Will new construction be put on hold? Will old construction not be able to open because city building inspectors are busy elsewhere? Sandy raises questions like it rose water levels.

Sandy can't be considered a freak occurrence. Mother Nature is becoming a big part of the bottom line and planning for this sort of thing must be part of any business model.


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