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'Heartbroken': embattled couple closes doors on popular Coast live music venue

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Live music fans on the Sunshine Coast are crying in their beers today with the news a major entertainment venue and dining precinct has closed its doors.

Food Focus Australia owners and husband-and-wife team Ian van der Woude and Michelle Christoe have said ‘goodbye’ to their supporters on Facebook after running the popular NightQuarter in Birtinya for the past two years.

In making the closure announcement, the couple, who also operate nearby Malt Shovel Taphouse, told their Facebook followers that, “it’s the news we never wanted to have to tell you”.

“After opening mid-pandemic, two years of trading through Covid restrictions and the bleak after-effects that have beleaguered our industry, we have made the call to close,” the post says.

“We are devastated. We’ve sold our home and put it towards the business to assist through this time; however, the attendance rates for live music events and night markets have been volatile coming out of Covid and we’ve run out of runway.

“NightQuarter has been our ‘baby’ and, personally, this has been a very difficult decision for us to make. We are heartbroken that we couldn’t see any market certainty to continue the incredible NightQuarter legacy that we have put our heart and soul into.”

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By 10.30am today, the post had received 1900 reactions, more than 1000 comments and had been shared 276 times.

Many of the comments from followers thanked Michelle and Ian for their efforts, shared their frustration at compounding issues conspiring against them, and even had their fingers crossed that NightQuarter may one day return.

A comment by Eumundi local and internationally acclaimed songstress Katie Noonan was typical of the outpouring of sadness: “Devastating and such a real representation of what we, the industry at large, are all going through. It’s been traumatic and we are all feeling it blow after blow. Thank you for trying SO hard.”

Live music fans of all ages enjoyed NightQuarter in Birtinya. Picture: Shirley Sinclair

After four years at Helensvale on the Gold Coast from 2015-2019, NightQuarter found a new home on the Sunshine Coast, opening its doors on November 6, 2020, as a family-friendly marketplace offering street food, market stalls and live entertainment, while also nurturing new local artists, performers and musicians.

The re-opening of the quirky open-air, shipping container venue had been earmarked for March-April 2020 – just as the Covid pandemic hit.

“We were literally at the point of pressing send on the media release announcing our Sunshine Coast opening dates when the government announced the first Covid shutdowns,” the post says.

“We had concerts booked in, we had 100 per cent stallholder capacity and were receiving a warm welcome from the Sunshine Coast community.

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“Instead, the venue lay dormant for eight months as concerts were cancelled and stallholders pulled out. We weren’t even able to tap into JobKeeper as the business hadn’t yet traded at that location.”

But NightQuarter finally felt the love after opening, embraced by fans from as far as Brisbane and Noosa for providing a space for national touring acts such as Ocean Alley, Jon Stevens and The Fabulous Caprettos (Russell Morris, Jack Jones, Rai Thistlethwayte and Daryl Braithwaite), as well as festivals and simply a great night out with family, friends or colleagues.

The venue, which had been trading most recently from 4-10pm on Fridays and Saturdays, won the Best Regional Venue at the Queensland Music Awards three times in 2019, 2021 and 2022.

NightQuarter co-owner Michelle Christoe, pictured with Caloundra Chamber of Commerce CEO Brady Sullivan (standing) and University of the Sunshine Coast senior researcher Dr Rory Mulcahy.

The impact of the well-publicised issues facing the embattled live music industry – from cancelled tours to rising insurance costs – have taken their toll: “We have lived it and it feels like you can’t get a break no matter where you turn.”

But the blows have kept coming since making the decision to relocate, with the business especially challenged by ever-changing Covid restrictions that still seemed to allow other industries such as sport to flourish.

We were very publicly shut down by Queensland Health,” the post says.

“In hindsight we could have done better to manage our ‘crowds’, but we did our best … that incident has been a shadow over us ever since.”

A lack of consumer confidence in attending concerts and entertainment venues has been an ongoing battle.

The Fabulous Caprettos played NightQuarter.

In trying to be proactive and encourage people back, the couple says the venue started refunding customers who had a positive Covid test at the time of the concert, created partnerships with alternative transport companies to get people to the venue, offered pre-sales and discount packages wherever possible, and halved stallholder rent in an effort to keep them trading – putting additional pressure on the business as overheads increased.

“While the outlook was positive for the entertainment industry nationwide in late 2021, the Omicron Covid wave over the holiday period at the start of the year dramatically impacted consumer confidence and resulted in the cancellation of 11 concerts in early 2022 at NightQuarter,” the posts says.

“As some insight into how bad things were, one of the events that we did host was a Triple J Most Played Act concert in January that had a 60 per cent non-attendance rate.

“This was a terrible outcome for everyone – from the customers, to the artists, the promoter and the crew but also for the venue that makes income, not from ticket sales, but from food and beverage sales made during concerts.

“The venue then flooded in the February 2022 storms, resulting in further cancellations and damages. It’s since been a long, wet winter and we have closed or cancelled so many times it feels like a bad dream.”

NightQuarter’s casual and relaxed vibe appealed to a wide range of customers.

The final straw has been cost increases across the board and debilitating staff shortages, to the point where “we have been unable to deliver events to the standard we expect from ourselves”.

The post thanks everyone who has believed in and supported the couple and the venue over the past seven years.

All tickets will be refunded via Moshtix. For any queries, email hello@nightquarter.com.au

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