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Central Ohio Businesses And Music Venues See Support For COVID Vaccine Mandates

The front door of speakeasy bar Light of the Seven Matchsticks in Worthington with a poster requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test.
Michael Lee
The front door of speakeasy bar Light of the Seven Matchsticks in Worthington with a poster requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test.

When you hear the word “passport,” you might think about taking a vacation outside the country — maybe traveling to a tropical island or heading to Asia.

Vaccine passports work quite a bit differently. Take PromoWest Productions for example. They’re the company that owns popular Columbus venues like Newport Music Hall, EXPRESS LIVE, A&R Music Bar and The Basement. On August 12, its parent company AEG Presents announced it will require these vaccine passports, or just proof of vaccination, in order to attend any events or concerts in their venues.

AEG wrote the policy would go into effect for their venues no later than October 1. PromoWest enforced that policy for the first time on August 18. Until October 1, concertgoers can also provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the event.

Last month, several Central Ohio businesses and music venues began making customers provide proof of a COVID vaccine in order to eat, drink or attend concerts. As weeks have passed by, they spoke about how that’s been for business.

Marissa McClellan, the marketing director for PromoWest, she said when they initially announced the policy, people were “vocal about their opinions” on social media. But when it went into effect, she said the feedback was pretty positive.

“I would say 98% of people have shown up to the events prepared," McClellan said. "They’re ready to go, they want to see live music, they’re excited to be there, because for some folks, it’s been a year-and-a half plus since they’ve seen a live show.”

For those who had tickets to concerts when the policy was in place who weren’t vaccinated or chose not to be vaccinated, McClellan said there was a 10-day window where PromoWest offered them ticket refunds. As AEG’s strict Oct. 1 deadline approaches, she said they will have another window for shows after that date.

But McClellan said business has been around the same as it was before, even with the refund policy. She added the vaccine policy not only lets them keep their customers and visiting artists safe, but keeps the artists coming to Columbus.

She mentioned that a majority of artists were the ones requesting vaccination or negative COVID test policies at the venues.

“When push comes to shove, we probably would have lost some really good shows that we were bringing to Columbus," McClellan said. "So in the need and want to keep bringing these bands here and to keep them safe and as well as our guests and employees safe, it was something we had to do.”

 P.J. Ford, general manager of speakeasy Light of the Seven Matchsticks in Worthington.
Michael Lee
P.J. Ford, general manager of speakeasy Light of the Seven Matchsticks in Worthington.

Safety is why some local restaurants and bars like Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza and its sibling locations like speakeasy Light of the Seven Matchsticks have been requiring proof of vaccinations too.

Natalie’s began enforcing their policy, which also includes proof of a negative COVID test within 48 hours of entering, at all its locations on August 11 amid rising COVID case numbers.

Light of the Seven Matchsticks General Manager P.J. Ford said they’ve seen a slight increase of customers since they have required vaccine proof.

“It seems like everyone’s trying to support," Ford said. "But in the same way as when COVID started, there was a huge influx of takeout orders and then things kind of evened out. So we’ll see what happens in the future.”

Ford added they’ve been pretty strict about enforcing the policy, even if people come and they say they’ve been vaccinated, but didn’t bring the proof.

“But even then, people are understanding and seem to not put up a fight or give us grief or anything like that," he said. "It seems like everyone’s kind of just on the same page whether they agree with it or not.”

In mid-August, protestors stood outside Natalie’s in Worthington and Light of the Seven Matchsticks in response to the vaccine mandate. Ford declined to comment about the protest.

The protestors were not the only ones unhappy about vaccine mandates. There’s a bill in the Ohio legislature to ban businesses and schools from mandating vaccines. And proponents like bill sponsor Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester), who spoke at a House health committee meeting in May, said it’s about choice.

“I’m an advocate for informed choice, the making of health care decisions free of coercion and the right of an individual to maintain privacy as it pertains to their health care decisions,” Gross said.

Hundreds of people turned up at the Statehouse last month to show support for Gross’ bill when it got a rare summer break hearing before the House health committee. Lawmakers are expected to take it back up in the coming weeks when they return to the statehouse.

In the meantime at businesses like Natalie’s, Matchsticks general manager P.J. Ford said its vaccine mandates will not just to keep people safe, but give them an incentive to get vaccinated.

Michael Lee joined WOSU in 2021, but was previously an intern at the station in 2018. He is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism where he obtained his master's degree, and an alumnus of Ohio State University. Michael has previously worked as an intern at the Columbus Dispatch and most recently, the Chicago Sun-Times.