DERRY — A local music venue had the opportunity to show off its creative efforts to keep the music alive this summer during pandemic challenges.

The Tupelo Music Hall on A Street was among a morning schedule of stops Friday for Administrator Jovita Carranza, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and part of a visit to several small businesses in the region to hear about their successes, worries, and what they are doing to keep their businesses alive and vital during the coronavirus.

In the Tupelo's case, it was all about the music, keeping patrons safe and finding innovative ways to continue to present performances safely.

When the venue had to close its doors this past March due to the coronavirus, owner Scott Hayward spoke out about the challenges and heartache he had to deal with, canceling shows, and wondering if any of those shows would be rescheduled.

Many artists planned for the Tupelo stage canceled tours due to the pandemic.

When the shows stopped, Hayward and his wife Julie took on other ventures to support the community and the business including a Family Meals and Supplies Program, that offered freshly made meals and other staples like paper products to those in need, and also for patrons who wanted to continue to support the music venue.

The idea of starting an outdoor drive-in concert option then seemed like another good idea.

The summer music series, known as the "Tupelo Drive-In Experience," proved very successful, Hayward said, with many sold-out shows and good weather to maintain the outdoor setting.

And the musicians are also grateful they have a place to play.

"A lot of people played here who haven't played this summer," Hayward said. "They were very, very appreciative of it and felt super safe."

Friday night's show was another sell-out, Hayward added.

"I want people to be super comfortable to be here," he said, adding he hopes the weather throughout October remains suitable for outdoor concerts. He said he is planning safe ways to return concerts indoors beginning in November, with limited seating and other safety protocols topping the Tupelo list.

Getting support through the federal Paycheck Protection Plan, or PPP, has helped the Tupelo retain employees and keep his business afloat, Hayward said.

During Carranza's visit, Hayward gave the administrator a tour of his concert hall, kitchen, and showed how he is spacing out chairs and tables to comply with safety guidelines. He said he hopes to safely welcome about 130 people inside for concerts once they start again. The venue can hold up to 700.

Carranza was optimistic another round of COVID business support could be coming.

"There is going to be another round of PPP funding," she said, adding she appreciated the Tupelo's "ingenuity" when it came to finding ways to continue to serve and support the business.

Carranza asked Hayward what comes next.

"What happens, after COVID, with a vaccine?" she asked.

Hayward said it may not be business as usual for a while

"We will keep some of the safety measures in place, but there will be lingering effects," Hayward said. "I think we are going to be outside again next summer."

Hayward said many entertainment venues are hurting more than the Tupelo, with rents not being paid and other challenges. He is thankful for the community support, the patrons coming to hear the music, and his staff.

"I have a lot of creative people," Hayward told Carranza. "My philosophy is if you have an idea, let's hear it."

In addition to the Tupelo, Carranza's Friday morning schedule included visits to KT &T Distribution in Nashua, A.J. Letizio Sales and Marketing in Windham, and the National Flight Simulator in Manchester.

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