The Milk Parlor: A Local Response to COVID
Written by: Samuel Frye

I live in Blacksburg, I go to Virginia Tech, and until I graduate, I consider myself to be a resident of Blacksburg. It’s a local community I care about and engage in. My personal interactivity with this town, independent of Virginia Tech, began my sophomore year on a date to what was then the Sycamore Deli. The Sycamore Deli soon shut down and like a phoenix from the ashes came the Milk Parlor.

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The Milk Parlor is home to many weekly events in Blacksburg. Some of these events include comedy night on Mondays with The Comedy Conglomerate at Virginia Tech, live music on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and usually salsa nights on Wednesdays. Obviously, COVID-19 has disrupted things at the Milk Parlor just as much as it has everywhere else. I sat down with the Milk Parlor’s general manager, Michelle Berry, to briefly discuss how they’re handling business during the pandemic and how they see live music changing in the near future to meet safety guidelines.

The Interview

Music Player Magazine (MPM): So, could you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about what you do at the Milk Parlor?
Michelle Berry (MB): My name’s Michelle Berry and I am the general manager of the Milk parlor and we are a full-service bar, restaurant, and live-music venue.

MPM: What kind of musical acts typically perform at the Milk Parlor?
MB: For the most part, it’s your funk and am-band scene but we also have electronic music, metal, country, things like that. So, we try to kind of hit all different genres of music.

MPM: How often does the Milk Parlor host musical events? Obviously, pre-Coronavirus.
MB: Typically, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Fridays are usually private events with fraternities.

MPM: And what about now after the effects of COVID-19?
MB: We have only had a few, like one individual or two individuals will come in and like, do an acoustic set in the back. But we haven’t been able to- since we haven’t been able to have anyone inside, we haven’t been able to put on any performances at all.

MPM: How has COVID-19 impacted business overall at the Milk Parlor?
MB: Um, a lot. I’m assuming you know most businesses are the same, but we get a lot of our revenue through events. And not being able to have gatherings of people and events and whatnot has definitely taken a big toll. I will say like, to-go food and all that has actually been pretty sweet. Until they opened up restaurants that have outdoor seating, but not us. [And since] these past two weeks have been pretty bad.

MPM: How did the Milk Parlor adapt to doing business in the pandemic?
MB: Well, initially we only… we didn’t have that many to-go orders. Like, beforehand. But we ended up getting, we only had Uber Eats, but then we ended up getting Grub Hub and we also added an online ordering system, as well as our employees, are now, uh, doing deliveries. So, before where we didn’t offer any sort of like, delivery services ourselves, we’re doing free delivery to pretty much up to anywhere like 4 miles or less. And at first, for the first month or so, we were giving away a free roll of toilet paper with every purchase to try to like, help the community a little bit since we were able to get some here. But, it’s also kinda just day-by-day and at this point, we’re waiting for us to be able to serve inside again.

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MPM: From what you’ve seen, ‘cause I know you said that you did the acoustic set, how have local bands adapted to performing? I think there was also a Livestream at some point. Was that early on?
MB: Yeah, so, it’s been about a month now since we’ve had a live stream with Jared Stout and Isaac Hayden. But there have been a few here and there. I know a few musicians that went to like, do a Livestream from Five Points in Roanoke and things like that. But unfortunately for the most part, well there have been a lot of- a lot of musicians in their homes and whatnot. Like, one or two bandmembers out of a normal five will perform live, so there’s been a lot of Facebook live streaming and YouTube live streaming. But in general, they’re not- you know, these bands are normally performing four to six days and week and they might be on the internet once or twice or something like that. So, I’m sure they’re all really eager to get out and do that again.

MPM: How do you see Milk Parlor going forward with phase one of reopening?
MB: Well, technically we’re in phase one right now. So, it hasn’t changed any for us other than the lack of business because we don’t have outdoor seating. When phase two, if theoretically we would be allowed to have between 40 and 50 people inside. I would set, ideally, we’d still have shows where normally it’d be a $5 cover, it might need to be a $10 or $15 and that way you know, you keep it more secluded but that way it’s a way for bands and musicians to come through. I was discussing like we have quite a few tables we can set up easily six feet apart. So maybe- and I know most people don’t want to go to a show and not be able to dance and things like that. But, if we need to set these tables up, ya know, social distance everybody the best that we can and then allow them to like, “Yes, you can get up and like, move around a little bit,” but we can’t open the dances floors as we normally would

MB About Salsa Nights and SalsaTech: …I would absolutely be down for it as long as the Salsa Tech people are down for it. And understanding that we can only let in a certain amount of people and things like that. But I think that the only weird thing is that right now it’s impossible to do booking. So, normally I would have already had the entire fall semester and would’ve been booking into like, spring of next year. But because no band is on a tour you don’t know where they’re starting or when they’re ending. So, even though I feel like once things lighten back up, I don’t think it’s gonna be a struggle to book ‘cause everybody’s gonna be going everywhere and trying to put on shows again. But I think that it’s gonna- it’s definitely gonna be weird and take a little while, more so than it normally would. So, ya know maybe we’ll only have one or two events a week

Salsa nights is one of the most popular, popping nights in Blacksburg every week. It’s led by SalsaTech, which is a registered student organization with Virginia Tech, and they’ve been running salsa dance nights for the past few years. If you’re ever in Blacksburg on a Wednesday, I highly recommend it. Hope to see you all there real soon!

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