For a little over a year, karaoke bar and restaurant Big Box Karaoke (BBK) attracted downtown Fayetteville residents and visitors to a lively night spot just off Dickson Street in the city’s entertainment district.
Packed houses were common, said Mailena Urso, the general manager, and BBK co-owner along with her husband, Justin Urso. They opened the business in December 2018, touting the venue as the first of its kind in Fayetteville.
“Our goal was always to book 50 [groups] each week,” she said. “We have seven rooms that can each hold from two to 25 people, and we’d have nearly 50 [groups] each week.”
When BBK shut down March 15, it was another small business casualty of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
On May 14, however, the singing returned to North Block Avenue. After the requisite planning and with a litany of new guidelines and safety precautions in place, the Ursos reopened BBK. Reservations and masks are required — patrons can remove the masks once in their private suites ready to croon — and the organizer of each group has to sign a COVID-19 waiver.
Mailena Urso said 13 groups booked a BBK reservation during the four-day reopening weekend, with a mixture of returning regulars and first-timers. She said the business is classified as a restaurant, so BBK is limited to a third of its usual capacity of about 100 people.
She said groups per room are limited to 10 guests, a decline from a maximum of 25.
“We’re going to continue to do what we are doing the best we can, market as much as possible and see where it goes,” she said. “August is probably the time frame of reevaluating whether or not it will be sustainable.”
Justin Urso said he forecasts BBK business to be off anywhere from 50% to 75% the remainder of 2020. He said the business would continue offering curbside pickup from its food and beverage menu, even though it’s not much of a moneymaker.
“We did more revenue in three hours on a typical Saturday night than we did in the past 60 days,” he said after the reopening weekend.
The arrival of the pandemic also shelved expansion plans for BBK.
“We were planning on opening a location in Rogers later this year,” he said. “Nearly all of our investment in that has been eaten away. We spent last year not really paying ourselves anything, trying to save up money for that. Luckily we had that money to help us get us through this moment.”
Urso said BBK did receive a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan arranged through The Bank of Fayetteville.
BBK had a mixture of 10 full- and part-time employees before the pandemic arrived. The Ursos now employ one full-time worker.