Our two small businesses are in free-fall due to the pandemic. We are watching it happen, taking a loss to sustain them but reluctant to close up shop and call it a day. In the city, our small jazz …
Our two small businesses are in free-fall due to the pandemic. We are watching it happen, taking a loss to sustain them but reluctant to close up shop and call it a day. In the city, our small jazz bar barely survived before the shut-down, although it was doing better. I joked with those who asked that we were now losing less than before the crisis. Irish dark humor.
We have kept the bar’s lease using funds from a federal loan we may not be able to repay. That money has now run out. A Go-Fund-Me account was started by our son who manages the bar on-site. Jazz fans and friends contributed over $5,000 toward keeping us afloat. These are not wealthy people. After all, they are jazz fans. The largest contribution was $250. Most are $25 or $10 from people who have lost their own jobs and watched their savings shrink.
We keep the bar safe now by moving the music to the backyard and enforcing social distancing. Our bartender wears a mask and gloves. He has five children at home. We don’t allow crowds to form on the sidewalk. Our neighbors have been great; we hope they are enjoying the music. They have not complained. When we built the bar in 2018, we put a lot of engineering into making it soundproof so not to disturb our neighbors. Now, outside music is our only way to have customers.
We are located in a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. By that I mean, there are no Starbucks or CVS stores every other block. The neighborhood is like the kind I grew up in, what most of the city was like at one time, with small businesses lining the streets. A cup of self-serve cafe-con-leche goes for $1 at the deli next door. Sugar is added by the spoonful, not the packet. The side streets in this part of Brooklyn have mainly single-family homes with small backyards, cheek-by-jowl with the neighbors. Storefront churches abound but are busiest before we open at night. Until recently, there were no high-rise apartment buildings. Gentrification was in mid-swing before March happened.
Bar Bayeux was on its way to becoming a destination jazz bar. It earned a spot in The New Yorker’s nightlife section twice, calling it “an enterprising club in the Prospect Lefferts Garden section of Brooklyn” when Vic Juris headlined a trio. The New York Times listed it alongside the Village Vanguard.
The son who manages the bar is a jazz bassist by trade, but he has worked in bars for 20 years. This bar was meant to sustain him and to pay for itself. We all put our heart and sweat into it, spending a year and a half building it before we would open. Another son contributed the design and production of the bar-top, a beautifully-crafted piece of mahogany.
Our other business is a music production studio in Monticello called Yonderbarn. A beauty of a place, it was designed by the film composer Ryuchi Sakamoto as a retreat from New York City. Currently considered even less essential than a park, it is now sustained by a rental from a nurse on a three-month assignment in Middletown. The little farmhouse on the property is now home to our daughter and her husband who gave up their Brooklyn apartment rental having fled the city in March to avoid the pandemic. It is a new business model, to be sure, but will it pay the taxes? A free-fall isn’t free.