When can Broadway return to normal? Steve Smith fears it may take two years

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Broadway on the Brink

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A muted Music City is too much to handle and the sound of silence is too loud for Steve Smith.

“We always know to save money for a rainy day.”

When it rains, it pours. Smith is the owner of Tootsies, Kid Rock’s Honky Tonk, Rippy’s, and Honky Tonk Central. He said he fears it will be storming in Nashville for at least two years.

“This is the toughest time we’ve ever seen​,” Smith said.

Today’s Broadway reminds Smith of what it looked like in 1992, when he first got his honky-tonk start.

“This city will be like it was 30 years ago when I first bought Tootsies Orchid Lounge; it was three bars on this street, everything else was boarded up. It was really dead back then.”

Smith said Lower Broadway was filled with blight and he fears we may be going back. “It’s hard, it’s heartbreaking my heart has been with downtown Nashville for a long time and to see city streets dead and deserted.”

But Smith refuses to desert his staff, nearly 900 of them in total. He is spending more than half of a million dollars a week paying his employees $17 an hour for a 40 hour week. “We’ve done pretty well for ourselves, but this can’t go on much longer and that’s why we’re all praying for May 1st.”

A May 1 opening date is the goal, but Smith knows normalcy will take time. He doesn’t even think he will hit 25% capacity on his opening day, which will include more guidelines, Plexiglas and gloves.

In addition, Smith plans to take patrons temperatures before they enter his establishments and he’s ordered hundreds of masks. His employees will also be required to take a COVID-19 test before returning to work.

He said one of the biggest changes will be having a Plexiglass partition between every two bar stools. “We’re gonna try it at Kid Rock’s first and see how it works out.”

Even if these measures work, he fears it won’t for other establishments.

“You got a lot of new people down there. I don’t know if they’re going to open back up or what’s going to happen to them in the long run,” Smith said. “Probably 75-percent of the restaurants in the U.S, that open up don’t make it right off the cuff​.”

Smith said it will take time, adding we will be lucky if we’re in full swing by August. And when it comes to Broadway going back to what it once was, it may take at least two years.

“It’s a different world now, we all have to face it and move on.”

News 2 reached back out to Smith after Mayor Cooper released his 4-phased reopening plan, Smith says he doesn’t have a problem with the reopening timeline, just the restrictions. He wants his bars treated equally to all other restaurants in the city.

How will one of Nashville’s most vibrant areas rebound? Bar owners open up about their concerns as News 2 looks at Broadway on the Brink. Click here to read more.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.


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