Melbourne bar owner James Young is asking loyal customers to help cover his venue’s towering rental bill by signing up to a membership for $1 to $2 a day.
Cherry Bar, a live music institution in Melbourne’s CBD, has launched the Cherry Massive membership, offering customers key rings, entry to exclusive events and discounts on drinks in exchange for a fee to help cover the business’ $14,500 monthly rent.
“If the government won’t let me go to work, I’m going to have to think my way out of this crisis,” Young tells SmartCompany.
Cherry Bar has been forced to close its doors to the public for six months since March last year, and has intermittently traded at reduced capacity.
“It’s the most frustrating time I’ve ever experienced and I’ve owned Cherry Bar for 15 years,” Young says.
“We never thought that we’d have to be closed for six months because of this pandemic and that’s what has been the case in Victoria with the five lockdowns.”
Young came up with the idea to offer memberships out of desperation after Cherry Bar’s rental bill skyrocketed 150%.
The end of COVID-19 rent deferrals early this year brought Cherry Bar’s monthly rental bill to $14,500 per month.
Young says there was no other option but to do something different because his debts were accumulating, JobKeeper had finished, and government grants had “dried up”.
“All we’ve got are the poor people we love, the Cherry Massive, the great unwashed, the people who always stand up when you ask them to give,” he says.
Three days after launching the membership option, Young had received about 250 sign-ups — more than 50% of his target.
Cherry Bar, which was established 21 years ago, normally employs about 18 people but has significantly reduced the number of its staff throughout the pandemic.
“That’s one of the reasons we do the cocktail deliveries, because even though I don’t make a lot of money out of it, at least I can give my staff work,” Young says.
“It’s been good to be one of the drivers because sometimes you get depressed sitting on your couch at home.”
The membership scheme is one of many strategies Young has adopted to help keep the business afloat throughout Melbourne’s many lockdowns.
Cherry Bar has also sold tickets to live streamed events as well as Grand Final Day and Father’s Day packages and merchandise.