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Contract Workers and Owners Scramble as Denver Venues Close

The hi-dive is one of the Denver venues that have closed.EXPAND
The hi-dive is one of the Denver venues that have closed.
Lauren Antonoff

Over the past few days, the owners of small bars and clubs in Denver, from the Lion's Lair to the hi-dive, struggled with the question of whether to stay open. They had a lot of concerns to weigh: workers and touring artists who need employment, as well as their own ability to pay rent or make payroll during a shutdown, balanced against public-health concerns.

By March 12, the Lion's Lair had decided to close, and while a few other clubs operated over the weekend, by early today, March 15, the hi-dive, Larimer Lounge, Lost Lake and Globe Hall had all arrived at the conclusion that they must shutter, too.

Now Mayor Michael Hancock has made the decision for everyone else, ordering all bars, clubs and restaurants closed by the end of today in an effort to help stop the spread of coronavirus. (Restaurants will be allowed to offer delivery, to-go and pick-up, however.)

Dakota Diemand, a sound engineer who tours with DeVotchKa and contracts with several small clubs in town, says that many of his fellow contract workers around the country had been asking owners to keep concerts going so that they could pay the bills. Soundboard operators, security personnel, bartenders, guitar techs, bookers and artists often are paid by the job, and they won't be able to cover rent, keep their kids fed or pay for health care through a shutdown with no jobs.

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Diemand is now working to push lawmakers to take care of laid-off workers in the event industry. "The eventual goal would be to make sure that any additional emergency legislation or actions by the government include protections for contract workers that aren't covered by unemployment and expanding access to food stamps and stuff," he says. "I have health insurance. I know a lot of my friends don't have health insurance."

On March 11, Diemand and a colleague set up a Facebook group for people working on contract in the events industry. They surveyed more than 500 of the 3,500-plus people who joined, and 54 percent reported that they were living paycheck to paycheck, he says, and their futures remain uncertain without government aid.

In the meantime, club owners like the hi-dive's Curt Wallach are trying to figure out how to stay in business through the closure. Last week, he told us that his club would be able to survive a couple of months; now he and co-owners are exploring ways to keep the hi-dive afloat, including selling merch and possibly setting up a GoFundMe.

Lion's Lair owner Doug Kauffman says that his business could survive six months of closure; after that, it would be tough. "It will get worse before it gets better," he says. "I just think it's the right thing to do."

Even Mutiny Information Cafe, a coffeeshop/bookstore/venue that falls in a gray area, has taken a couple of days off while the partners figure out what to do next.

"We thought maybe we could be the stalwart business, but it's just too scary," admits co-owner Jim Norris.

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