By Gamal Hennessy
This summer has produced several fresh attacks on the nightlife industry. Community activists are taking steps to weaken an industry already suffering from the recession and its own parity. Unless we deal with these isolated incidents now, the City that Never Sleeps will be gone.
There are New Yorkers who can’t sleep because of noise coming from the street. These residents live close to nightlife venues and have come to the conclusion that if the clubs close earlier, then the neighborhood will be quiet. Instead of the normal closing time of 4 AM, some residents have called for clubs to close at 2 AM. 1OAK, the popular Chelsea club is the latest venue to face this request.
At first glance, the resident’s request appears reasonable. All they want is a good night sleep, right? They are not asking for the club to close, they are just asking for it to close a little earlier. That makes sense, doesn’t it? And if the operators can’t control the crowds outside their club, why not force them to close earlier for the benefit of the community?
This view of the situation is flawed on at least three levels. First, operators are hard pressed to control the activity of people on the street because they have no legal authority over those people. A bouncer or club security guard can control who gets into a club. They can control what they do in the club and they can remove people from a club. But they can’t control who is out on the street and what they do when they are there. Controlling the streets is a police function, not a club security function. If the police increased patrols in nightlife areas during peak periods the noise could be controlled without closing venues earlier. I made a similar statement to a New York Magazine thread on the subject, but I don’t know if the NYPD read that blog yet.
If venues in New York closed at 2 AM, many of them could not remain open. While two hours might not seem like a major blow to a business, there is a significant impact to a club that closes at 2 AM instead of 4 AM. According to industry studies, nightlife venues collect up to 58% of their revenues after 1 AM. This makes sense when you consider the number of people in a club increase dramatically after midnight. If you eliminate more than half of the revenue from any business, that business will probably fail. When several community boards made the 2 AM closing stipulations a prominent aspect of liquor license hearings in 2006 operators came together to fight it. It appears that history is repeating itself.
Whether or not the local residents ultimately want local venues to close is an open question. What is clear is that the CB’s do not adequately consider the cultural or economic ripple effects that their demands create. They don’t seem to consider the jobs that are lost when clubs close, or about all of the other industries (hotel, taxi, restaurant, clothing, and service industries) that would wither without a strong nightlife industry. They don’t seem to consider the impact on their own taxes or the impact on crime that could occur if more and more operators close down. They don’t consider the impact on the city’s reputation or its ability to attract tourists and new young residents. They are concerned ultimately, with their own personal comfort.
The focus of the community boards on their own sleep as opposed to the welfare of the city as a whole is not a bad thing. The community boards exist to be a voice for local residents in the community. If the only people who go to the meeting happen to be the anti nightlife not in my back yard contingent, then that is the voice of the community.
The problem isn’t that NIMBY’s strive to protect their interests. The problem is that we as club patrons haven’t taken any actions to protect our interests. Unless we want to see nightlife strangled to death by sleepy residents, we need to be just as vocal as they are. Whether we decide to get involved with the Nightlife Preservation Community, or join our own community board, we need to stand up for the culture that gives the city its life.