Chicago music venues refunding tickets due to coronavirus, but some patrons donating the cash back

Tums performs during Helltrap Nightmare at the Hideout in Chicago on Aug. 31, 2019.
Tums performs during Helltrap Nightmare at the Hideout in Chicago on Aug. 31, 2019.(Youngrae Kim / Chicago Tribune)

When the Hideout announced March 13 that it was temporarily closing its doors because of coronavirus, the North Side venue’s owners asked customers to “please be patient with us due to the high volume of refunds.”

The Hideout said some ticket holders who received refunds for canceled shows immediately gave the money back to the bar via their online fundraising pages. A GoFundMe campaign is soliciting “tips” for Hideout staff. Patrons can also purchase a $25 “Hideout Buck” that can be used as a $20 gift card at the bar, with the remaining $5 going to the artist who designed the fake cash.

“It’s so overly generous,” Hideout co-owner Katie Tuten said about the recent donations.

Owners and managers of Chicago music venues have a lot to worry about amid the coronavirus shutdown — from paying rent to taking care of staff to maintaining an event calendar, even though it’s unclear when they will be able to open their doors again.

Several Chicago shows have been postponed indefinitely, which can make getting a refund tricky. If a concert is canceled outright, it seems venues often refund the ticket price in full. But if there’s a postponement, ticket holders are typically asked to hold on to their tickets. These days, it’s difficult to know if and when the date will be rescheduled.

Though venues tend to use online platforms to handle ticket sales, it’s best to go to the clubs directly with refund questions. Bruce Finkelman said his spaces, which include Empty Bottle in Ukrainian VillageThalia Hall in Pilsen and the Promontory in Hyde Park, give refunds through the Eventbrite ticket system when a show gets canceled. He said lately he’s been fielding questions from ticket holders about the speed of the refund process after a concert cancellation.

“When the date cancels, it usually takes 24 hours, 36 hours for the money to be refunded. People are pretty concerned about money right now, so as soon as the date gets canceled, they want to see some immediacy in the funds being transferred back to them,” Finkelman said. “We’re doing our best. But if anything, we’re just talking to (patrons) to make sure that they know that we’re on it, and that the process has been started. And I think that’s really all that people want, is they want to be talked to, they want to be kept in the loop.”

Finkelman’s venues are part of the Chicago Independent Venue League, a group of performance spaces that united more than a year ago to try to delay city approval of Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards megadevelopment. Now the league is turning its efforts to fundraising for hospitality workers through GoFundMe.

Employees of Beat Kitchen, which recently started offering food carry-out and deliveryraised at least $6,000, while more than $2,000 has been collected for workers for Subterranean bar in Wicker Park. Though times are tough, owner Robert Gomez said he has relaxed refund rules for shows that have not been canceled at those venues.

 “A few months ago, if somebody wanted a refund on a ticket, we would make a decision based on the issue. But in this case, there’s no evaluation of the reasoning for the refund,” Gomez said. “If somebody needs a refund, then they get it.”

City Winery, meanwhile, has relied on food, wine and merchandise sales and an online employee relief fund to help weather the pandemic. The company, which has locations around the country including outposts in the West Loop and on the Riverwalk, has introduced a new facet to its refund policy. The policy was that tickets were non-refundable, and if a performance was canceled, store credit was given for a future show.

Now if a City Winery show is postponed, ticket holders are asked to keep their tickets. If they can’t make the make-up date, City Winery said it offers store credit for the full ticket value or a restaurant gift card in the amount of the ticket purchase plus a 20% bonus. The gift card is a new option “to try and preserve as much cash in our accounts as possible,” City Winery founder and CEO Michael Dorf said.

He said some cash refunds have been issued, but few people have asked. “Most have been very responsive to our choices,” Dorf said.

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.