Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Long-awaited grant money arrives for some Montana performance venues

by Alex Miller

Jay Owenhouse owns and operates one of the largest touring magic shows in the U.S. His Bozeman-based business was forced to shut down for 16 months due to the pandemic, but recently announced federal grant money will help him – and others – to keep the show going.

Sen. Jon Tester announced Friday that 23 different businesses across Montana would receive just over $8 million from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. Six of those businesses are in Bozeman – including Owenhouse’s – and are set to receive about $740,000.

Logjam Presents LLC, based in Missoula, is set to receive more $3 million, the most of any business receiving the funds in the state so far.

The money comes from the Small Business Administration, which received around $15 billion to dole out to small entertainment businesses and live venues from the Dec. 2020 COVID-19 economic relief package.

Wrapped into the relief package was the Save Our Stages Act, which got the ball rolling for venues and small entertainment businesses around the country to apply for funding to keep the doors open.

“When this pandemic hit, Montana’s live venues were the first to close their doors to help keep folks in our communities healthy, and now, more than a year later, they are among the last to reopen,” Tester said in the release. “I’m proud to have worked with these small businesses to ensure they have the resources they need to get Montanans back to work and support our local economies.”

Owenhouse has owned and operated Owenhouse Promotions since the early 1990s. He searched the country for a place that would be able to safely provide a stage to perform his act, but grew frustrated as it became increasingly clear that no venues were going to open during the pandemic.

His business was the first to receive funding in the state in early June. Owenhouse applied when the grant was first announced, but waited months to receive payment. He was considered a first priority applicant, which is determined as a business that has lost 90% of its revenue due to the pandemic. He received almost $300,000.

“We’d be out of business if it weren’t for the grant,” Owenhouse said.

The grant program launched in early April, but was marred by technical difficulties. Issues with the website application portal led to the site being shut down for a time, and then reopened weeks later.

More than half of all U.S. senators – including Sens. Tester and Steve Danies – sent a letter to the Small Business Administration head Isabella Guzman in mid June, urging her and the administration to speed up the process to get money disbursed.

Brian Buch, deputy district director of the Small Business Administration regional office in Helena, likened the issues to a busy highway, so full of traffic that applications clogged the grant portal.

Buch said that the Small Business Administration would hopefully have around 70% of all applications decided this month. A report from July 6 indicated that the Small Business Administration has received more than 14,000 applications from around the U.S., and has made determinations on whether to grant money to 74% of the applicants.

So far $2 billion in grant money has been disbursed.

Broad House Productions LLC, home to Broad Comedy, received more than $34,000 in grant money. Soren Kisiel, director of Broad Comedy, said in an email that the business applied for the grant in April. The Small Business Association approved the application last week.

Kisiel said that the grant money would be used for lost revenue from not being able to tour and payroll for their actors.

Owenhouse said that the grant money his business received would go to paying his staff, rental payments on his warehouse and advertising to help restart his business – strict guidelines dictate how the money can be used he said.

“We’re just thankful that, as a Montana-based business, we didn’t go out of business,” Owenhouse said. “That grant was vital to keeping us going.”