It's been a little over a year since Effex Nightclub shut its doors Downtown per Governor Lujan Grisham's public health order. In that time owner/operator Carrie Phillis has also had to shutter two other business locations: The Salt Yard East and The Salt Yard West, located in other parts of the city. Despite the closures, she feels hopeful that the Downtown arts and entertainment district can come back strong. Phillis and several other bar and concert venues started the Bar, Nightclub and Entertainment Venue Association to lobby on their own behalf. Phillis also sits on the governor's economic recovery council, leading the way for businesses all over the state to open safely amid the pandemic. "We just felt that until the Turquoise Level was introduced, we were being ignored Downtown. I know that we have a lot of people in our venues, and we want to open safely, but we needed some light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "We have lawmakers who say they care, but laws are being passed that show they don’t understand what it takes to be a small business owner, and we have a massive amount of support, and we all want to keep us together."
Rich Baca agrees. Baca is the co-owner and operator of Bourbon and Boots, a country music nightclub located at Fourth St. and Central Ave. in the old Maloney's Tavern building. "We were only open for five months before we had to shut our doors. We haven't been able to open since. It's been tough. I look at local distilleries and breweries that are allowed to be open, and I don't understand why we can't open as well."
That's when Baca decided to get creative. He is opening up the commercial kitchen to serve lunch and dinner and is adding extra sidewalk seating outside. "We're doing whatever we can to hang in there until we can reopen fully. We bring a totally unique crowd to Downtown, and I think that helps the overall perception of what Downtown is," he said. "I know when we first opened, my friends didn't want to come down here. But then the word got out, and we were busy every night with people you wouldn't normally see in Downtown Albuquerque." Baca hopes to have the restaurant portion of the club open by mid-April. With the restaurant open, he plans to have guest bartenders and feature as much local liquor as possible.
Phillis says businesses like Bourbon and Boots are needed Downtown in order for it to succeed. "It’s not just about Effex. Without everyone else, we’re nothing. Food, convenience stores, retail: We need all of that to make Downtown awesome." She says the bar and nightclub association encourages other businesses to open Downtown because it helps everybody. After the shutdown, she says, businesses stopped seeing each other as competition and began working together. She says she's also worked with the city over the years to create better public safety. "Everyone told me not to open a business down here. They all told me, 'It's not safe,' and I thought, well let’s make it safe."
A Downtown staple, Sister Bar near Fourth St. and Central Ave. has been partially open for the past several months. Owner/operator Zeus Zamora is handling this reopening cautiously. "We could be open at 33 percent according to the health order, but I'd rather be open at 20 percent capacity and keep my customers and my staff safe," he says. "I don't want us to rush into this and then have to shut our doors again. I want to work with all of the venues to create a better place than before in the Downtown district. I still have hopes of opening a 'barcade' next door. Fingers crossed it can happen." He says that he's seen such an improvement in how the bars and entertainment venues are banding together. "We're in this together, and we can't succeed without each other. We have very loyal employees and customers, and we need to get this right."
City Councilor Isaac Benton has represented the Downtown district since 2005. He says he's worked with every administration in that time to build a better perception of Downtown and to work with Albuquerque Police and Albuquerque Heading Home, which is a collaboration of public, private and nonprofit organizations that started in 2011 to end homelessness for individuals who have been chronically homeless vulnerable by providing housing and counseling for them. He worked with APD to open a police substation at the Alvarado Transportation Center in 2019 and added 14 officers to patrol Downtown Albuquerque. Benton says he's willing to work with any organizations to improve the district and is encouraged by all of the businesses and arts organizations working together. He admits he's not sure what to do to help with revitalization efforts Downtown. "I know that it's hard because we are following the state's lead on when they can open. Hopefully, it's soon."
Phillis feels stronger than ever that opening her nightclub Downtown 10 years ago was the best decision. She feels the community is stronger than ever now and will reopen Effex once she's able to provide the full experience of the club. "We all want to get reopened, and we want more businesses to be Downtown. Not just on Central, but the side streets as well. I feel very safe Downtown, and we have great public safety. Anything that gets people Downtown makes us all better and stronger," she says. "The businesses all have a plan to reopen, and we don’t know when it’s going to happen and we’re more committed to each other and Downtown than ever. The revitalization of Downtown is going to come from us; it’s not going to come from the city."
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