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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

A Sense Of 'Relief And Hope' As Local Music Venues Reopen

Bands are on the road again after tours were halted worldwide in 2020. As COVID-19 spread, people were forced to isolate in their homes, leaving businesses vulnerable to permanent closure.

Concert venues took a massive hit, including the MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. Chris Schadler owns the rock n' roll venue, as well as the Woodward Theater. He says MOTR Pub was about to celebrate its 10th year anniversary, but then everything stopped.

Credit Cory Sharber / WVXU
MOTR Pub has been operating since 2010 in Over-the-Rhine. Famous acts seen here over the years include Alabama Shakes, Hannibal Buress and Sebadoh.

"The first couple of months I think everybody was thinking, 'This will only be a month or two,' " Schadler said. "The harsh realization was that everything's closed for good, for who knows how long."

And it didn't take long for the future to look bleak.

"My mind had come to the realization that we may never open again," Schadler said.

MOTR wasn't the only local venue looking death in the face last year. Schwartz's Point on Vine Street has been operating since 2008. It was founded by local jazz pianist Ed Moss after running other venues throughout Cincinnati. Following his death in 2016, the club was left to his daughter, Zarleen Watts. She says business was going well as more people discovered it.

Credit Cory Sharber / WVXU
Schwartz's Point on Vine Street caters to jazz and acoustic-based artists. According to the deed, it was built in 1875 and was originally a dentist's office, which is how it got its clock and name.

"COVID hit and it really hit us hard because we were finally starting to get noticed, you know, this little place down here," Watts said.

As smaller venues shuttered, thousands of seats at larger venues were left empty. Riverbend Music Center was vacant for a year until Jimmy Buffett recently hosted a sold-out show at the 20,000-seat venue. MEMI operates Riverbend and is opening a new venue, the ICON Music Center at The Banks. The $27 million facility will be able to hold shows indoors and outdoors. Rosemarie Moehring handles marketing and PR for MEMI. She says it had to spend most of its savings to make sure the venues didn't go under during the pandemic.

Credit Cory Sharber / WVXU
The ICON Music Center can hold shows indoors and outdoors. The Foo Fighters will be the first act to play on the outdoor stage on July 28.

"Any money that we had in reserve was gone and that's where the stimulus money came in to help us replenish that and then kind of gave us some leverage to start over again," Moehring said.

Starting over again seems to be the theme of concerts this summer, especially given that venues were able to use federal aid to open up again, including the MOTR Pub. However, opening up after a year off won't be easy. Since starting back up in June, Schadler says the venue might have lost roughly 25% of its typical crowd to what he calls "COVID culture."

"Some people love the idea of like, 'You know what? I'm never going out again. This has been great!' I just feel like there are a certain segment of society where we've got to convince them to come out again," Schadler said.

But he says patrons have been overjoyed to return after a year away.

"People are coming in and just, like, hugging," Schadler said. "We're still getting it. People are just coming in, their eyes are wide open like, 'Oh my God! I can't believe it's open!' They just sit down at the bar and they're just kind of looking around. It's a lifestyle."

Schwartz's Point is also feeling the love as shows return.

"The vibe was relief and hope, and I think that moving forward, that's going to be something that people are going to feel when they come in here," Watts said.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.