Once, the Somerville music lounge and ballroom, “will not reopen” at its current venue, owner JJ Gonson announced today. (Read her full announcement below.)
Launched in 2015 in the former Anthony’s Function Hall at 156 Highland Ave., the business–which operates under the umbrella of Gonson’s locavore catering company Cuisine en Locale–had so far survived coronavirus shutdowns, despite “revenue at less than 20% of what it was pre-pandemic,” due to funding from a GoFundMe campaign and government financial support.
“Those funds have run out now, and there is no additional aid in sight,” Gonson writes. “…We cannot make ends meet.”
So Cuisine en Locale is be going out of business, Gonson writes.
While closed to in-person events, Once has launched a virtual venue, which Gonson aims to continue. “Our goal is ultimately to find a home for ONCE where we can welcome you back with open arms (remember hugs?) for in-person shows, flea markets, benefits, and community-building events.”
JJ Gonson’s full statement:
Dearest, good friend of ONCE,
I’m writing to you today with sad news. Cuisine en Locale is going out of business, and the space we call the ONCE Lounge and Ballroom will not reopen.
I want to personally share this news with you and to explain the “why” behind it.
The event space we call ONCE is leased by my locavore catering company, Cuisine en Locale. Everyone worked for CeL. When COVID hit, and business stopped entirely, so many people stepped up to help ONCE/Cuisine en Locale to raise money through a GoFundMe campaign kept the venue going for a few months, made it possible to pay people and prevented us from having to immediately lay off all of the staff. That was amazing! Right around when that ran out, we received some COVID relief funding. We used all of it carefully and wisely, but those funds have run out now, and there is no additional aid in sight. Cuisine en Locale and ONCE, in separate ways, have pivoted and created and tried to hang on to our space as long as possible, but with revenue at less than 20% of what it was pre-pandemic, without the ability to gather in person for events and without government aid programs substantial enough to sustain our physical operations, we are left with no choice. We can’t hold on until we are able to reopen.
This sucks. I adore our quirky ballroom and lounge – the space Cuisine en Locale has occupied since 2014, and that has been called ONCE for over 4 years. Many, many people have worked long hours to make a welcoming, warm, and safe home for all. The mirrored walls, gold ceilings and chandeliers hold so many happy (and loud!) memories.
We have embraced our home as much as we could during this global crisis, video-ing excellent art on our soundstage and cooking nourishing, locally-sourced food in the kitchen. To keep our ONCE family connected and support local musicians, writers, and artists, a group of ONCE staff and volunteers launched the ONCE Virtual Venue (OVV). Bridget Duggan, James McElhiney, Erin Genett, Stephen Loverme, Oliver Saffery, Erin Solomon, and Chris Porter, along with our beloved advisors and myself have built a whole new ONCE world in nine short months, while Carrie “Scarrie” Hirschberg and Dylan have kept a few great things going in the Cuisine en Locale kitchen to help make it work.
We should be – and we are – really proud!
But we cannot make ends meet. COVID has made it impossible to make the kind of money we need to occupy a space of that size. The insurance, the electricity… I know you get it.
The hardest part of this whole shit show has been not being able to just see people. I did not realize how important that front stairway with the door person and the chandelier was. It was our office water fountain. Closing and watching the immediate understanding among the whole staff of what that meant, and suddenly being pulled apart, has been debilitatingly sad. I miss everyone terribly. I know we are all feeling this way. I’m glad for this chance to tell you so. Without you it is just a hallway. You made the gold ceiling shine.
So, now what? We’ve persisted through unexpected and unforeseen hardships before and, together we will do it again. ONCE is going to enter a new chapter, now. Cuisine en Locale, the catering company, will be going out of business, and our goal is ultimately to find a home for ONCE where we can welcome you back with open arms (remember hugs?) for in-person shows, flea markets, benefits, and community-building events.
For now, we will be online at the ONCE Virtual Venue, and we want you to continue to be a part of that endeavour. We, ONCE, plan to stay in touch with you, and we hope you will stay in touch with us, too.
If you feel you want to help ONCE transition to the next phase, level up, as it were, there are a whole bunch of ways to do it. Some cost money, many do not:
• We are asking anyone who wants to lend a hand with any number of skills to fill out this form. We will be needing volunteers to help us keep producing online content and aim for an in-person comeback.
• We’re launching a ONCE Patreon and asking for a pledge of recurring gifts (starting at just $2 a month) Our patrons will get some cool perks in return, like exclusive access to certain OVV productions, ONCE merch discounts and signed prints of my rock photographs.
• To help with SEO and keeping our voice heard through the void, please subscribe to the ONCE Virtual Venue YouTube channel and watch, like, and share our videos
• If you are not already, please engage with ONCE on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
• Purchase holiday gifts from the ONCE webstore, Shoppervillle.
• We can take one-time gifts via the ONCE Venmo or PayPal.
• If you are not on our email list, the sign up is on our website. We know things are going to be chaotic, and we don’t want to lose track of anyone.
Please, please, please if you have photos you took at the venue, please share them, and tag us. We are carefully packing up the things that make ONCE, ONCE. We have built a traveling ONCE Lounge set and we plan to be recording with partner spaces until we have one of our own again. We will keep the piano and the bowling furniture safe. The PA, which started at Harper’s Ferry, then went to TTs and then came to ONCE, will be packed properly and stored safely with our friends at Springdale Beer Company.
So, that is the story. Fuck COVID.
Thank you for being part of the ONCE Army.
JJ Gonson Founder and proprietrix, ONCE Somerville/Cuisine en Locale
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