With more than three decades of experience in the live music industry, nightclub owner Eddie Dean has never faced more uncertainty than he did in the last year. The pandemic kept his New York club Schimanski shuttered for 16 months without the ability to pay rent or predict the future of his 800-capacity space.
The uncertainty harkens back to Dean’s decade-long run with New York’s legendary Pacha nightclub. The former four-story nightclub saw early performances from EDM stars like David Guetta and Calvin Harris and hosted more than 1,500 shows for more than 6 million fans before Dean made the difficult decision to call it quits in 2015 due to a shifting club culture.
Now, after a turbulent year of closures, a summer boom and lagging fall ticket sales, Dean is hoping Halloween weekend will provide a much-needed revitalization for the live scene. Friday night Dean’s DEG Presents will host a sold-out night with Tiesto at Brooklyn Hangar followed by The Very Scary Suckdown event in partnership with influencer group Friday Beers on Saturday.
Dean sat down with Billboard to discuss the decisions behind Pacha’s “controlled closing,” making it through the pandemic and his cautious optimism for the return of live events.
What was behind the decision to call it quits with Pacha?
I’m a big student. I read a lot. I ask a lot of questions and you collect all the information over the years. I observed a lot of clubs have a good run and then when it sort of loses its luster, you watch it slowly unravel. They start to change directions and doing crummy events. It’s just sad.
I didn’t want that to happen. We were so happy and proud of everything we did with Pacha for those 10 plus years. It was a really hard decision to make, but I didn’t want it to become a shadow of itself. We were a traditional multi-level nightclub with different environments on each floor. But things were becoming more “concerty” with the big EDM explosion and the DJs. Everyone wanted to be in the same room, GA style with VIP surrounding it. So, we did a controlled closing.
How do you do a “controlled closing?”
Honestly, I had to make a really hard financial decision because of the way deals are structured. When you have a lease, there are obligations if you walk away. We had to walk away from a big security deposit, but the more time has passed I feel stronger and stronger that we did the right thing.
The pandemic must have been a difficult time to own a nightclub.
On one hand, it was hard. On the other hand, it was completely out of my control. We were shut down by the government and that was it. We were effectively out of business. We hung in there and kept in communication with the landlord. We applied for Paycheck Protection Program. We applied for Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. We just got our money a few weeks ago and we’re going to be settling with our landlord and several of our other vendors. It’s been a godsend.
We reopened in June and were doing very well. Arguably, we were doing better than before COVID-19. Then the city changed again and said clubs have to crack down and we have to be responsible for people’s vaccine cards and stuff. Some people aren’t vaccinated so they aren’t going to buy tickets to shows if they can’t get in. Ever since that announcement, business has retreated at least 50%. It has set us back to where we are in total limbo and it’s awful because there’s no clarity.
How are ticket sales doing this fall?
Sales are erratic. We’re seeing some shows sell better than the past. We’re seeing people buying tickets but not showing up. You sell 800 tickets but only 500 people show up. It’s hard to predict. You’re bringing in a full staff but then only half the customers show up, but you still have to pay the full staff.
It’s a rough estimate, but 95% or more of people coming to the club are vaccinated. But what we are missing are those 200-300 people that are your profits. They are just not coming.
Do you see more predictability in the near future?
It’s absolutely unpredictable. We have people making up rules as they go. There is no rhyme or reason. We are way past the number of [vaccinated)] people we needed to be normal and it is not normal. We’re managing the conditions as they evolve the best we can.