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Since mid-March, we’ve all had to give up certain experiences we normally take for granted. When the C-word first hit, even going out to a restaurant, attending church or getting together with friends and extended family were verboten. As we slowly and cautiously return to something resembling normal, many once-routine activities — like visiting a loved one in a nursing home or boarding an airplane — are still highly restricted.

With schools reopening last week, we are seeing one of the biggest, and most risky, leaps toward normalcy since the pandemic began. For the sake of students, parents and teachers, we hope this experiment goes well, but we must all remain vigilant for it to work. This means continued social distancing, mask-wearing and frequent hand-washing.

It’s tempting to think that the reopening of schools is a sign that we are getting close to a postpandemic world, but that ignores the reality that many people are still hurting financially due to job losses and greatly reduced income. Restaurants, bars and other small businesses are still reeling from the impact of the shutdowns earlier this year, and many customers may still be reluctant go out in public spaces and spend money with limited disposable income. One small but important part of our economy that has often been overlooked during the age of COVID-19 is independent performing arts venues. Here in Central Wisconsin, we’re not exactly overfl owing with night clubs and theaters, but we do have a few in our area that provide much-needed live entertainment. Closest to us in the LuCille Tack Center in Spencer, which every year brings in a diverse array of acts from around the country for us small-town folks to enjoy. Just 30-plus minutes down the highway in Wausau is the Grand Theater, which offers a beautiful backdrop for those looking for an almost big-city feel. If that’s not your thing, Cadott’s Chippewa Valley Music Festival Grounds hosts the popular Country Fest and Rock Fest every summer.

All three of these venues are members of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), a nationwide lobbying group formed just this year in response to the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on live performance venues. The coalition of over 1,200 venue owners and promoters is asking the public to put pressure on Congress to “Save Our Stages” — a phrase that is both a hashtag and a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and co-sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

The bill, appropriately abbreviated as “S.O.S.,” would appropriate $10 billion in federal funds to help the owners of small theaters, coffee houses, bars and concert halls weather the storm of COVID- 19. That’s a lot of money to spend, but the situation is desperate. According to a survey of NIVA’s members, 90 percent of the venue owners say they won’t be able to reopen again if the shutdown of their businesses lasts longer than six months and they have no federal assistance. To combat this, the bill would allow grant recipients to use the money for rent, utilities, mortgage obligations and payroll protection, among other expenses.

NIVA is also supporting RESTART Act, a bill that would give more flexibility to recipients of the Paycheck Protection Program first into place by the CARES Act. Both Save Our Stages and RESTART have bipartisan support, which is rare in the midst of a highly polarized election, but they still face major obstacles in getting passed in the midst of contentious COVID relief negotiations on Capitol Hill.

That’s why it’s important that regular citizens voice their support for these efforts to preserve our little bastions of live entertainment. We urge any and all fans of concerts, plays, comedy acts, etc. to visit and sign the petition. When the COVID crisis subsides, we need some place to go when we want a night out.

The Tribune-Phonograph editorial board consists of publisher Kris O’Leary and editor Kevin O’Brien