Owning a music venue through the pandemic

An interview with Austin Wrinch of the Diving Bell Social Club

At 3956 Saint Laurent Blvd., behind a black door covered in graffiti, and three stories up a single flight of stairs is the Diving Bell Social Club. The venue opened in 2018 in a space previously occupied by the once-popular Champs sports bar.

Since their opening, the Diving Bell has acted as a multimedia performance venue, hosting concerts, stand-up comedy and drag shows.

However, the club has been closed since early March 2020, when the owners chose to close the venue in response to the then-burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic, not long before government regulations forced all venues to close. 

Diving Bell Social Club is under renovation.

Austin Wrinch is the co-owner and manager of the Diving Bell.

“We actually decided ourselves to kind of close before [the government] had fully mandated it. Basically, we’re an event space and a bar. So our activity, what we do at the space, is very much dictated by the community around us,” said Wrinch.

“At that point, we were saying, [we’d be closed] ‘til the end of the month of March 2020, which is kind of funny in retrospect.”

It’s disappointing that the Diving Bell has had to close for so long when 2020 was looking like it could be their best year yet.

“January and half of February was definitely a good time. It’s weird thinking back now … My memories of those shows don’t include any sort of COVID fear. It kind of set in like, two weeks later [that] it was just here to stay,” said Wrinch.

“If we were not hitting a stride, I would feel less confident about all this time passing and opening up again … If it wasn’t for COVID, 2020 was looking like it was going to be the best year ever for us. But it will again.”

The venue has stayed afloat thanks to rental subsidies and loans that have been made available to small businesses. Some emergency loans have been made available for small businesses, but they depend on a variety of criteria such as revenue. Some loans are interest-free while others have small amounts of interest. All of them are outlined under Canada’s COVID-19 response plan.

But, in the world of the pandemic, those loans don’t guarantee that you’ll be able to keep your business open.

“Yeah, you can get access to $20,000 or something for your business as a loan. [But] you know you have to start paying that back at a certain point, and then there’s interest after a certain point,” said Wrinch.

“When your business has been closed and it’s still unclear how long it’s going to be before you can actually be generating money with that business, it’s actually kind of nerve-racking, using more loan money, because that’s not your money. It’s all going to be paid back eventually.”

The staff at the Diving Bell hasn’t remained completely out of work.

“We had a lot of time to do a lot of things that we’ve always wanted to do in the space,” Wrinch said.

The team has been doing some renovations during its closure, which is great but can be very tricky to do when you have no idea when your business may be open again.

“It’s been definitely very tough the last year, just with the uncertainty and everything, and it’s by no means over,” said Wrinch

“We didn’t do crazy renovations, we did them all ourselves … We had to be very, very cautious on not spending too much money.”

Wrinch says the space has also been used by artists to do live streams and hybrid performances, as a way of making sure it gets some use during the pandemic. 

As restrictions are gradually being lifted, theatres and larger venues were able to open on March 26, 2021. But because the Diving Bell is also a bar and a smaller standing room venue, it will be remaining closed.

Even when restrictions are lifted, the team at the Diving Bell won’t be desperate to open up if they don’t feel it’s safe. “We would definitely stay closed if we didn’t feel like it was a good idea,” said Wrinch.

But even if the space was to reopen, their business revolves around the artists who perform there. In the summer when restrictions were more relaxed, it was difficult to get people to come out and perform.

“The general response was ‘yeah, I’m definitely down. But I want to wait and see some other shows go first, to kind of gauge the vibe and make sure that it’s not pushing it.’ You don’t want it to feel irresponsible.”

Wrinch is confident the Diving Bell will be able to reopen but isn’t sure it will be happening anytime soon.

“It’s been definitely very tough the last year, just with the uncertainty and everything, and it’s by no means over,” said Wrinch

“People have been good with supporting local businesses, restaurants and stuff. But, I think that really when it comes down to reopening live performance halls in safe ways, it’s obvious [that] it’s going to come down to people showing the actual support, going and contributing to those communities, if they want them to survive,” Wrinch continued.

The Diving Bell Social Club will be back to hosting concerts of all kinds — as soon as it’s safe — at 3956 Saint Laurent Blvd., way up the stairs.


Photos by Kit Mergaert


FASA to renovate Café X

The old café will be redesigned as a student-friendly place.

The Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA) discussed the renovation of Café X space during a general council meeting on Oct. 29.

Café X, formerly located in the VA building, and was known for offering an all-vegetarian menu with vegan and gluten-free options. It was forced to close in late 2017, after not generating profits. In 2016, FASA contributed $12,000 to the café during its final year to help pay off its tax debt. The group also helped with the expenses associated with the closure of the café last year.

FASA has been in consultations with a design company to come up with a new use for the old space. “We would like to make the Café X space a nicer, more friendly space for people to hang out in,” said Sara Jarvie-Clark, FASA’s general coordinator.

The total project is expected to cost $76,000. FASA is looking to contribute $40,000 and will be seeking external funds to cover the rest of the cost. “There will be very few continuous annual expenses associated with maintaining the space,” said Jordan Beaulieu, FASA’s office coordinator.

The old café will be turned into a multi-purpose space and will include a sink, coffee makers, a vending machine with healthy options, a computer and printer, as well as rearrangeable tables and chairs for meetings. The space will also include a blank wall for projections, so the space can be rented out for film screenings. The floors and walls will be renovated as well, and new lighting will be installed.

Café X’s door today. Photo by Gabe Chevalier.

During the meeting, the council was slated to vote on one of three colour schemes for the floor, walls and counters in the space. Jarvie-Clark reassured members that the design company would not be using materials that are easily stainable. FASA councillors voted on a patterned floor but will consult the design company about the possibility of having dark floors and counters, which the current design options do not allow for.

The current renovations differ from the original plan in order to reduce the cost of the project and complete it quickly. “FASA will provide its own furniture for the space, rather than having the cost of furniture built into the cost of the renovation,” said Beaulieu. “Moving forward, we can do more updates to the space as we see fit.”

The timeline for the renovations is still being negotiated. Beaulieu said FASA hopes to start as soon as possible. “We’re not sure how long the renovation will take, though it’ll likely be pretty quick once it’s begun.”

Photos by Gabe Chevalier.


Roadwork around ConU still causing problems

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

The renovations outside of Concordia University set to finish this Friday may be delayed for an undetermined amount of time.

The construction started this summer, with the city of Montreal revamping and repaving De Maisonneuve Blvd. from Bishop St. to St-Mathieu St. to include a bike path, green space and an extended sidewalk. While the portion between Guy St. and St-Mathieu St. reopened this month, the rest of the construction is supposed to finish by the end of September.

According to university spokesperson, Chris Mota, the Public Works project slated to finish this Friday, Sept. 28 may be behind schedule.

“The roadwork is the city’s construction and it’s on their schedule,” said Mota. “Based on their work, ours can only follow.”

“I do believe it’s a little past schedule,” added Mota. “With construction, until it’s done we don’t know.”
Since the roadwork is entirely governed by the city of Montreal, the university aims to update their website regularly to inform students about the progress of the renovations.

The construction and blocked off De Maisonneuve Blvd. have caused headaches for students traveling between the downtown and Loyola campuses. The roadwork forced Concordia to change the location of the shuttle bus stop from in front of the Henry F. Hall Building to the corner of Ste-Catherine St. and Mackay St., before it moved to Bishop St. and De Maisonneuve Blvd., until completion.

According to undergraduate student Amrit Kaur, the additional traffic due to the construction made her late for class.

“It took me 35 minutes from downtown to Loyola,” said Kaur. “Usually when I take the shuttle it’s between 15 and 20 minutes.”

Kaur insists that the shuttle is still the quickest commute from one campus to the other and that she tries to leave earlier to ensure she’s not late for her courses.

Brittany Williams experienced the same delay when she travelled from Loyola to downtown recently.

“It’s always a little frustrating to drive an extra five to 10 minutes just so the shuttle bus can let us off near our actual stop,” explained Williams.

Bus driver Fernand Groulx said there’s no remedy to the situation until the construction is over.

“You can’t do anything,” said Groulx. “There’s now construction between St-Jacques St. and Upper Lachine too, it happens.”

Groulx emphasized that construction is merely part of his job and the commute between the two campuses – while he may be delayed – didn’t make his day any harder.

Williams suggested that Concordia provide extra shuttle busses to offset the traffic that snarls up the downtown core due to the construction.

“Considering the construction is the city’s fault, the university could perhaps revisit the shuttle schedule,” said Williams. “They can see if they can make some changes or additions so there will be less delays or inconveniences.”

Public Works of the city of Montreal could not be reached for comment by press time.


Months of construction coming to Guy-Concordia

Photo by Navneet Pall

The university plans to add more lighting and signs, as well as remove the tiled ceiling in the metro area and install a massive back-lit Concordia University logo paid for by the Quebec Ministry of Education. The renovations, one of the first stages of a university-wide signage and branding program, start in March and will take place at night between 1 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. when the metro is closed.

Simultaneously, the Société de transport de Montréal will be shutting down and overhauling Guy-Concordia’s water-damaged St-Mathieu entrance. To handle the extra traffic, turnstiles are soon expected to be installed at the Guy St. entrance, which will become the only direct way in and out of the metro for several months.

Photos by Navneet Pall

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