Stone Church 2

Robin Johnson, owner of The Stone Church in Brattleboro, stands in front of the venue in November 2020.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

BRATTLEBORO — A Main Street venue attracting regional acts and fans from all over is weighing a safe reopening as restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic wind down.

“We have a good plan in place for the fall, which we were planning on the whole time,” said Robin Johnson, owner of The Stone Church. “We’re trying to figure out what to do for the summer because now there will be a lot more pressure to be fully reopened or close to it.”

Johnson anticipates the venue will be open for full capacity by September. Several shows are booked for July and August, for which he is still figuring out logistics and considering putting audience members into “pods.”

“I feel like the changes come pretty rapid without advance warning,” he said.

The governor is set to allow a full reopening of businesses by July 1 or once 80 percent of Vermont’s population eligible for COVID-19 vaccines has received at least one dose. As of Tuesday, the number was at about 77 percent.

Reopening is “a little complicated” because of different attitudes about the virus, Johnson said. He anticipates his group could face some backlash locally for opening too early.

There’s also work to do inside the venue, which Johnson said would have been “great to do the whole time we were closed” but he’s still waiting for a federal Shuttered Venue Operator Grant. He was part of the National Independent Venue Association, which was created in response to the pandemic and advocated for the funds to be made available. Applications for the grant could be submitted by the end of April. As of Monday, Johnson was still waiting to hear if he would receive the money.

Planned renovations include adding sprinklers and another bathroom, adjusting the stage access so performers can go straight from the green room to the stage, setting up an accessible ramp and completing some electrical work.

“Of course, everyone else is in a very similar situation,” Johnson said. “So contractors are all booked.”

Support our journalism. Subscribe today. →

Rather than asks guests to show their vaccination cards in order to reach a fuller capacity based on state rules, he’s exploring the option of having ticket purchases include a box to check off to attest to being vaccinated. He said he’s seen other venues go that route.

But that begs another question.

“Do we really want 200 people packed in really closely right away?” Johnson said. “I think it makes sense to ramp up a little slower.”

Pent up demand for live entertainment is another consideration.

“You’ll have some people saying you’re opening too quickly,” he said, “then other people saying, ‘I can just go to this other venue.’”

Some artists are requiring staff and audience members be vaccinated. That affects the booking and ticket sale process.

On Friday, the Stone Church organized an outdoor comedy show at Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro. Johnson anticipates having another one in June, then potentially holding one indoors in July and August.

Comedy shows are easier to set people apart in pods, he said. He suggested a folk music show with a similar arrangement could be pulled off.

The Stone Church also is helping book musicians for Gallery Walk held the first Friday of every month downtown and the Thursday evening Food Truck Roundups at Retreat Farm.