The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns completely turned the nightlife industry on its head. With people suddenly having to social distance from anyone not in their immediate household, the entire foundation of the nightlife industry was suddenly considered faux pas, if not outright dangerous: strangers dancing with each other, friends meeting for drinks, enjoying a show with coworkers.
For most of 2020, our favorite hotspots and music dens were in a holding pattern, but now, as we move through 2021, music venues and nightlife, in general, is making a comeback. It’s easy to assume that people would flock to the newly opened venues, but what does the consumer foot traffic data say?
Bars by City
As of April 2021, bars in most major cities around the United States remain significantly impacted in terms of foot traffic. At the bottom end of the spectrum, we see that the cities with the most impacted bars are all in California (San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego), closely followed by New York (Brooklyn and New York City).
It’s intriguing to note that foot traffic in Miami bars is comparable to what it was in February 2020. Bars in two major cities have recovered completely, Birmingham (+9%), and Memphis (+6%).
Local coronavirus regulations and nightlife culture varies widely between cities. For example, New York and Los Angeles are heavily-populated cities, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that coronavirus-related restrictions for bars would be much more strict than in Birmingham and Memphis.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN CALIFORNIA?
It is a fact that California has some of the most stringent coronavirus guidelines and regulations in the country. In April 2021, it was announced that California would be loosening restrictions for bars and restaurants starting on June 15, 2021. The rationale is that enough people will be vaccinated by that time to fully lift the restrictions in place while preventing further spread of the coronavirus. We predict that the ease of restrictions and the increase in the vaccination rate should help bars in California get back to pre-COVID foot traffic levels.
Music Venues by City
Foot traffic at music venues tells a bit of a different story. Once again, foot traffic to California venues—with the exception of those in Sacramento—is among the most impacted compared to pre-pandemic data. Minneapolis has been hit the hardest of all the cities on this list, suggesting that local venues are more than likely not hosting shows quite yet.
Portland, however, is off the chart (literally) in terms of foot traffic recovery (150+%) to local music venues. Birmingham, Brooklyn, Fort Lauderdale, and Colorado Springs have all recovered as well, but Portland seems to be the city where people are choosing music venues over bars. Let’s take a closer look at why this could be happening.
PORTLAND’S MUSIC VENUES
In Portland, music venues are still required to operate at 50% capacity. However, with a population that cares deeply about their music scene, Portland’s residents seem to be flocking to music venues, and similarly, artists are flocking to perform there. According to Portland Monthly, “After Congress introduced the Save Our Stages Act to create grants for shuttered music venues, fans across the country wrote 2.1 million letters to their representatives asking them to support the bill…The National Independent Venue Association tallied the number of letters from specific jurisdictions, and the result? Oregonians wrote more than anyone else in the country.”
A Gradual Comeback for Music Venues and Bars
Our consumer foot traffic data shows that while the comeback is slow, there is reason to believe that bars and music venues as a whole will return to normal sooner than most of us anticipated. With some major cities loosening coronavirus restrictions—or planning to—Americans should be able to watch their favorite bands and enjoy drinks with their friends, hopefully, before the end of 2021.