The Local explains how Vanderbilt football’s attendance policy can affect small businesses

Geoff Reid, owner of The Local, sat down with The Hustler to explain how Vanderbilt football’s attendance policy might affect his business.

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Vanderbilt football hosts Georgia in 2019. (Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

Bowman Talbot

The COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental to local businesses in Nashville. Tourism is down due to both capacity restrictions and travel bans since the pandemic began in March. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to the world of sports. 

Vanderbilt announced on Sept. 11 that no spectators will be allowed at home football games at least through October. While this was later updated on Sept. 28 to allow for limited student attendance, opposing fans are still barred from attending. 

In some cases, fewer opposing fans means less tourism and therefore less revenue, leaving business owners disgruntled by the athletic department’s decision to ban opposing fans. The Hustler sat down with Geoff Reid, the owner of The Local, a bar on 28th Ave, to gauge the effect of barring fans from attending games and what this means for their business amidst a public health crisis. 

About The Local

The Local prides itself on its live music, delicious food and authentic Music City atmosphere that has its roots in the culture of the local music scene. 

In conversation with The Hustler, Reid smiled while recollecting The Local’s atmosphere on the weekend of Vanderbilt football games. He knew that a home game also meant a spike in tourism. 

“Oh, it can get crazy,” Reid said. “We open early and expect over 200 people Friday and Saturday.”

Football season is The Local’s busiest time of year, by far. Throughout the season, local bands routinely play past midnight while visiting fans enjoy themselves. The Local is often packed with fans, especially those from out of town.

“On a normal Saturday, we make $5,000, maybe $6,000,” Reid said. “On gameday, we make $20,000, even more if it’s a big SEC opponent like LSU or Georgia.”

The hospitality industry relies on travel from all over the country in order to make money. Thousands of tourists flock to Nashville every week for the music, the food and the nightlife. This increases during the fall as football and the change in weather makes travel more pleasurable. Like many other businesses, The Local relies on the football season to make money for the winter, when tourism lulls. 

“Going into winter, you lose 25 percent of your sales, you know? Your patio is closed, and tourism is down,” Reid said. “But you still have expenses: rent, labor, taxes. Football season pays those expenses. One [gameday] can make up for a whole week.”

The restaurant and bar business are extremely difficult industries in normal conditions. Most businesses do not make it past their first year. When the pandemic shut down The Local in March, the bar was hit hard. Revenue went to zero, but expenses did not cease.

“We lost $400,000 in three and a half months,” Reid said. “We had to use $120,000 in savings. And when they shut us down again in July, I wasn’t sure we’d make it.”

They almost didn’t, having to rely on a GoFundMe started by another local business owner, Cynthia Ryan. The money raised by the owner of Nashville Sign and Graphics along with government assistance kept the bar afloat. The Local was nearly closed two weeks before the City of Nashville allowed them to reopen. Reid had even come to terms with the bar closing for good. 

“We nearly lost everything,” Reid said. “I posted on Facebook about our situation. I thanked everyone for their business over the years and said we would be closing our doors. But the community wouldn’t let that happen.”

The Local is now open but at reduced hours and reduced capacity. It survived the pandemic—at least, the first eight months of it. But the tough times aren’t ending anytime soon, especially with no fans in the stands. 

“I don’t think they meant to hurt small businesses,” Reid said of Vanderbilt’s decision. “I know they had to act. Our biggest fear is another outbreak.”

So while the decision was not a welcome, The Local and Geoff Reid are just happy to be open for business. And with the announcement on Sept. 28 that Vanderbilt will allow for limited student attendance at the first home game against LSU, hope remains.

“We’ll get through this,” Reid said. “I know Nashville and the music community have our backs. And soon, the fans will be back, and we’ll be back to how things were.” 

The Local is optimistic about their situation. They have already survived the worst of the COVID-19. Now, as the city moves into Phase 3, the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. Vanderbilt football is also looking at that light, as they play their first home game against LSU on October 3rd. While no purple and gold will be seen on Saturday, The Local and the Nashville business community is confident that things will be back to normal soon.