One of the area’s longest operating music venues will reopen next month with some major changes, including a "COVID-19 fee."
The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, has been closed since mid-March, like thousands of music venues across the country.
Owner Gary Oelze tells News4 he plans to reopen July 10.
“We’ve been closed 103 days as of today,” Oelze said in a phone interview. “We’ve canceled between 90 and 100 shows and refunded between $200,000 and $300,000 in ticket sales.”
When live music returns to the Birchmere, the fan experience will be different, as will the musicians.
Music fans will pay $35.50 in fees and a new minimum purchase requirement. The costs include a $5 "COVID-19 fee" and a $5.50 tax/facility fee. Oelze explains the tax/facility fee has always been part of the ticket price and is actually less than if the club used Tickemaster for sales.
“The fee covers the costs of masks and gloves for employees as well as all the cleaning disinfectants we have to use," Oelze said. He says he is doing his best to keep the costs down for customers.
There will also be a $25 minimum food and beverage purchase.
“We’ve never had a minimum purchase requirement in 54 years,” he said. “We considered charging for parking, but decided the minimum was better for customers.”
Oelze says the fees and minimums are temporary.
“The best I can hope for this year is to break even.”
Customers will be required to wear a mask while not seated at their tables. The club has booked seven local bands to play weekends in July. But unlike traditional shows, there will be no opening act, and the headliner will only perform one set.
Shows will be over by 9 p.m. and crowds will be much smaller as well. The Birchmere’s main room holds 500 people, but Oelze plans to limit seating to 250 people.
Fans familiar with the venue will be welcomed by fresh paint, a bit of remodeling and new pictures along the walls. There will also be a new sign at the door informing patrons that The Birchmere is not responsible if you contract COVID-19 while at the venue.
Oezel opened the club in 1966 and says the longest stretch he recalls being closed since then is just four days.
As for the possibility The Birchmere, like so many other music venues across the country, would not survive the shutdown, Oezel was quick to reply.
“It never entered my mind that we wouldn’t reopen. I’d die first.”
The Birchmere Schedule:
Fri. July 10: The Billy Price Charm City Rhythm Band
Sat. July 11: Daryl Davis
Fri. July 17: Skinny Wallace
Sat. July 18: Jumpin' Jupiter
Fri. July 24: The Nighthawks
Sat. July 25: The Free Flowing Musical Experience with Scott Fallon
Fri. July 31: The Roadducks