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Friday, June 21, 2024

The Backstage Lounge just had its biggest crowd in months. Almost 60 people attended the rock lounge and bar to celebrate its fourth year under the current ownership Sunday.

The crowd of 60 was once expected for a slow Tuesday or Wednesday, but since the construction on South Main Street decreased drive-by traffic, the Backstage Lounge and other businesses on South Main Street have been suffering.

In the barroom adjacent to the rock lounge area, five people sat talking quietly, including the owner of the Backstage Lounge, Rick Tingle. Despite his imposing 6-foot-7-inch build, Tingle is as cordial and engaging as the female bartender, Marty Lewis, who happens to be Tingle’s “better half.”

Tingle said he has worked at the Lounge in some capacity since it was called Eddie C’s. After he bought it four years ago, he changed the name to the Backstage Lounge to give patrons a more comfortable feel, but promised the man who sold him the place that he would continue to house live music for the next 20 years.

Tingle said that while live bands will occasionally draw a crowd for the Backstage Lounge, it has suffered along with many other businesses on South Main Street since construction from the 900 block on North Main Street to Depot Avenue began in January.

Tingle said that traffic has dropped off significantly after the construction work that is replacing sewer pipes and removing contaminated soil created detours from University Avenue to South Main Street.

Tingle said the lack of drive-by customers has hurt the Backstage Lounge financially.

“I’m paying rent for property that’s supposed to have 3,000 cars drive by it every day,” Tingle said. “I’m getting about four.”

Tingle said the day before the Backstage Lounge received a legal maximum capacity requirement, Travis Meeks of the band Days of the New performed, and 650 people jammed into the Lounge to watch him.

Lewis stood still and held her arms tightly to her sides to demonstrate the freedom of movement that each person had that night.

The next day, the Backstage Lounge was given a maximum capacity of 300 people.

At a meeting with city officials in April, Tingle proposed that to compensate for lost business, the city should give the Backstage Lounge up to four outdoor permits per month, which would normally cost $250 each.

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Tingle said he has heard no response from the city or the Florida Department of Transportation.

“If they were serious they could finish this in six or seven months,” Tingle said. “It’s not like they’re not trying. I just feel like they don’t care.”

Gina Hawkins, the spokeswoman for the City of Gainesville Public Works Department, said working two blocks at a time is more efficient than working on the entire area at once because doing the whole project at once would mean longer detours and would block more traffic crossing Main Street.

“In order to manage the flow of traffic to businesses on Main Street, we have found this design to be our most efficient option,” Hawkins said.

Shortly after 1 a.m., Tingle and Lewis left the bar for their home. At home, they have a tomato garden that they made almost every meal from during an eight-month period when profits from the Lounge were lower than normal.

“I’m living week to week,” Tingle said. “In two weeks I might be here, but if I can’t pay the $2,300 for my electric bill, I might have to close my doors. That’s when you’ll see me out there chained to the construction equipment.”

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