Today, Pittsburgh immersive theater company Quantum Theatre announced the launch of its NearBuy program as part of its 2020-2021 season. Starting this month, Quantum will begin encouraging theater patrons to eat and shop at participating NearBuy partners throughout the city.
The NearBuy pilot program, which runs from Sept. 14 through Oct. 16, will include two Downtown businesses, bakeshop Cobbler World and pan-Asian eatery Yuzu Kitchen, and Homewood-based Everyday Café. The program works by giving partners a guaranteed minimum amount of sales through their participation. In addition, money spent by customers who mention the NearBuy program, up to the guaranteed amount, will be matched in the form of gift cards purchased and distributed to local neighbors in need.
The pilot program will run in advance of upcoming Quantum's in-person shows in order to give businesses a boost before patrons return.
A press release attributes the concept to Quantum's community engagement associate Jalina McClarin, who wanted to use the pilot program to highlight businesses owned and operated by people of color.
“One thing that became clear as federal COVID-19 assistance for small businesses was allocated and distributed is that businesses owned by people of color — and Black businesses in particular — were often left out of the picture,” says McClarin.
She adds that Quantum saw an opportunity to help local businesses after it received a $100,000 community development grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
“When Quantum was awarded this grant, I was immediately grateful to have the ability to help narrow that gap, at least a small amount, here in Pittsburgh,” says McClarin. “The best way to work through times of turmoil is by loving each other and supporting each other. Community care is the solution, and it’s really an honor to partner with these folks.”
Richard King Mellon Foundation director Sam Reiman says overcoming the economic devastation of COVID-19 will require “sustained effort and innovative solutions," and says NearBuy is the kind of “creative collaboration” the foundation was seeking in its COVID-19 economic impact and recovery program.
Quantum executive director Stewart Urist says the program made sense, as restaurants and bars depend on income from theater crowds traveling Downtown and to other neighborhoods in the city. Urist believes that, with in-person shows and other activities being canceled for the foreseeable future, “many food and beverage establishments will not survive, changing the character of neighborhoods for years to come.”
“We immediately thought of our adventurous audience that has followed our shows to so many neighborhoods over the past 30 years, often taking our advice on local restaurants to complete their neighborhood experience,” says Urist. “Our hope is that by focusing the collective support of this community-minded group of art lovers, we can make a real difference and support long-term neighborhood health.”
Everyday Café manager Kiya Heard sees the program as a way to show patrons the importance of supporting the arts and local businesses.
“I believe that our cafe is a space in Homewood where arts and culture has been celebrated since our opening,” said Heard. “We all look forward to meeting new customers and building our community up through this partnership."
Over time, Quantum hopes to grow and expand the program by offering “larger guarantees and partnering with a dozen additional businesses.”
While Quantum has always experimented with setting its shows in different locations, including a take on King Lear staged at the historic Carrie Furnace site, the pandemic has pushed them to look at spaces where audiences can comply with COVID-19 safety precautions, including social distancing. After being forced to cancel its in-person shows, including its production of Chimerica, set to stage in June before being postponed, Quantum has also offered a roster of digital shows and programming.
But as reported by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the company planned to return to live shows at some point in the year. On June 24, Quantum's founding artistic director Karla Boos posted a statement on the company's website that promised to present a new season of shows while also being committed to the safety of audiences, artists, crew, and staff.
“Each show has a very large site, two of them outdoors, and all will have custom-built, distanced seating, for a small number of people, with safe and distanced ways in and out,” reads the statement.
From November to December, Quantum will focus on Downtown businesses to coincide with Chimerica, which will now take place in the United Steelworkers Building.
In April and May 2021, Quantum plans to partner with six participants in Homewood and Point Breeze in connection with the world premiere of the musical, The Current War, in Westinghouse Park. The choice makes sense as the show explores the rivalry between Pittsburgh engineer and electrical pioneer, George Westinghouse, and Thomas Edison, and the park is a former Westinghouse estate.
“We believe that our artistic works are unifying, and we are happy to do the groundwork necessary to engage with and enrich the communities that host us so kindly, and we know our audience shares that commitment,” says Boos.