Deep Ellum Art Co.'s Closure Is Inevitable, Says Venue's Owner

White Denim perform to a packed house in 2019 at the Deep Ellum Art Co.EXPAND
White Denim perform to a packed house in 2019 at the Deep Ellum Art Co.
Andrew Sherman
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John LaRue, the co-owner of the Deep Ellum Art Co., says his two biggest enemies right now are "mathematics and bureaucracy."

He and his wife and co-owner, Kari LaRue, have spent the better part of the last year fighting to keep their music venue and local art space "dedicated to the creative & native" running after the coronavirus caused many local venues to close. LaRue says their fight may be coming to an end soon, but they plan to go down swinging as hard as they can.

"We're running out," he says. "There's not a lot of blood left in the turnip right now and we're squeezing as hard as we can. We have to do what we're doing."

The venue owner posted on his personal Facebook page Tuesday afternoon that his business has over $500,000 in debt and that he doesn't believe the grant money from groups like the Small Business Administration will roll in fast enough to cover their regular financial obligations and losses.

"It sucks," LaRue says. "It sucks so bad to wake up every day and mathematically be in a worse place than you were the day before. There's a numerical bottom line to look at every day that paints a picture of more despair, more depression and more anxiety. It's just fucked, man."

In order to apply for a grant from the SBA, which recently opened its Shuttered Venue Operator Grant program thanks to Congress' passage of the recent relief package, LaRue says he and his wife have had to jump through staggering bureaucratic hoops.

"You have to get signed up with all these entities and there's documents you have to get before we can even apply," he says. "It's a month before you hear anything back before you even get funded."

The past week was a particularly difficult one for the Deep Ellum Art Co. with the COVID closures and restrictions and the record-breaking winter storm that caused further delays and shutdowns for business. LaRue says because of the lack of revenue, he and his wife had to make some very tough choices about the budget and further reduced their already dwindling staff.

"We knew we were doing something right by keeping our team as intact as we possibly can," LaRue says. "This week, we had to make the decision ... can we pay the rent next month or keep the people we have here?"

The venue became a staple in Deep Ellum with an art gallery — displayed indoors and on their sizable patio — and for hosting local and national music acts. In May 2019, LaRue spoke to the Observer about how "freeloading" patrons were destroying his business.

The Deep Ellum Arts Co.'s current issues, however, place them among the thousands of local bars and venues struggling to stay afloat and maintain safety standards issued by the county and state. LaRue says he's further frustrated that he can't even get county officials to answer emails or phone messages seeking guidance on compliance and eligibility.

"People who I have the utmost respect for in this town and across the country, bar owners and venue owners, it's just like we've been deemed expendable," he says. "It really does feel like we've not even been on the back burner. It doesn't even feel warm where we are."

LaRue plans to go down partying with his "jamily" who offered support when he broke the bad news on social media. He says he's planning on defying the restrictions by reopening on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays starting on Thursday, March 11.

"Until we get shut down formally by the authorities or until we officially run out of money," LaRue says.

"We have to," he continues. "There's nothing else we can do, and I know putting it out there publicly is gonna put all sorts of BS on us. We don't have any more time to wait, and we're waiting as long as we can." 

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