The Footlight, a Ridgewood bar selected as best music venue by our readers, is in a legal struggle with their landlord, and it is affecting their ability to do business. Amongst other local businesses in conflict with their landlords, The Footlight has to increase their monthly payments, due to a recent settlement, until a future hearing is scheduled. This, combined with out-of-pocket repairs for recent storm damage and temporary permit fees while awaiting outstanding violations to be fixed, are pushing The Footlight into an uphill financial battle.
For small businesses like The Footlight, these added financial problems can be the difference between staying in operation or not, especially when an unexpected change in month-to-month operating costs has to be dealt with.
“The Footlight was my brainchild and a dream I had since adolescence,” said Laura Regan, The Footlight’s owner. “It would not have come to be without the support of the original small group of investors and friends that all chipped in to get us up and running. None of us have deep pockets or unlimited resources.” The owner boasts of a small turnaround, having kept most of the original staff since opening.
Regan moved to Ridgewood in 2013 after a lengthy stint in Bushwick, and even considered leaving the city. Understanding that their venue is a part of the gentrification wave, the team does what they can to be a good neighbor. Staying mindful and keeping the volume down, they have found other ways to support the area.
“We keep our neighbors’ spare keys in case they get locked out. We’ve found lost kittens and returned them,” said Regan. “We’ve complained to the city when they don’t keep up the sidewalk or street lamps. We do our best to contribute in hopes to offset whatever negative impact we might have.”
The Footlight has been in operation for three years now and has brought a wide selection of events to their premises. Local live music acts can be found playing most nights, while art shows, weddings, zine-fests, stand-up comedy, and dance troupes have all taken place in their event space. By creating a space for emerging art, The Footlight has gradually and organically turned into a home away from home for many locals. When a business’s intent is creating a community over maximizing profits, dealing with constant repairs and legal fees is particularly painful.
“It has been a constant struggle since the week we opened when our basement flooded with sewage for the first of many times,” Regan said. “[This] is an old building with a lot of old-building problems. I was prepared for some of this but never could have anticipated having so many structural issues without any help from my landlord to properly maintain the space.”
According to public records, their landlord has owned, either directly or through a corporation or LLC, the land since 2003, long before Regan moved to Ridgewood. The space was previously an abandoned store-front that was being used illegally for party rentals and notorious for fights, underage drinking, and public disturbances, Regan said.
There are currently open violations on public record for 465 Seneca Avenue, where the venue is located, which force The Footlight to continue to operate under a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy. According to the lease between The Footlight and their landlord, it appears that these violations are the landlord’s responsibility and should have been dealt with before The Footlight moved in.
The bar has been paying out of pocket to maintain their Temporary Certificate of Occupancy and has been trying to receive an abatement until the violations are sorted. This, combined with structural repairs that The Footlight reports, has taken a toll on their operating costs.
Though the venue has been experiencing difficulties with their landlord, their story may not be surprising to anyone who has rented in New York City—struggles with landlords come with the territory. However, their story shows how financial burdens placed on renters can be difficult to withstand while waiting for lengthy legal processes.
With all the difficulties, Regan stresses that The Footlight is “small but fierce and mighty.”
“We’ll be rolling out some merch, silent auctions, zines, and other fun opportunities for artists and community members to contribute to keep The Footlight going. The best thing anyone can do to help us is to come hang out at some shows, buy some drinks and/or become a monthly sustaining member through With Friends!,” she said. “We are planning on staying open and making it to our day in court. It’s going to be a little harder but we are wicked tough. ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you,’ right?”
Images courtesy of The Footlight, unless otherwise specified.
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