In late April, Skylight co-owner Kate Kennedy told SFR the nightclub would slow down regular operations in the wake of money issues and alcohol-related citations from the state. At the time, Kennedy stated that Skylight would close after it had presented its already-booked events, but she also owned up to high rents and bad timing after partners exited the business for other jobs. It seemed we’d lose the only mid-level venue with an actual stage and sound system in downtown Santa Fe.
Cut to this month, and things are actually looking up; Skylight has obviously not closed, and their Thursday through Saturday night operating hours seem as popular as ever with DJs and one-off events. We spoke with co-owner/founder Joe Ray Sandoval to get more information on what's up and what the future might hold.
SFR: Can you provide some insight on why exactly we all seemed to think Skylight would close?
Joe Ray Sandoval: The rumor mill always gets out of hand—it's a small town. The day-to-day stuff we had to let go, it's just not lucrative. There just aren't enough people going out during the week. ... It just doesn't make sense to be open if we're not generating income. But Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, these are mostly good nights. I love having our space and operating how we want, but it's not sustainable. That initial rumor mill underestimated [Skylight landlord] David Barker's business acumen and also my resilience.
So how does it work now?
Now we're on a month-to-month lease, and it costs less. Like I said, David Barker is a smart businessman, and in order for us to make money, we need to be open. We got behind on some of our payments, yeah, but we're paying that back, and we're able to operate on the nights we're going to have events.
Was this just a matter of people not coming out to Skylight?
We lost some shows, yeah; we got outbid on some shows. We were a business that started with $50,000, and the fact we pulled it off as long as we did is nothing short of a miracle. We have a pie, and it's only one size, and now that there are other venues … it's good for the city and the community of Santa Fe, but that has hurt our business. The month-to-month thing could be indefinite, we could close in a year but, ultimately, people would have to support it.
Are more people supporting now that they know it might go away?
I think that's starting to happen. But I think people heard we were closed and wrote us off. We struggled over whether to close down or regroup. My management team wanted to close, but I fought against that. I realized that if we stopped, we wouldn't have the momentum or the money without outside financing to make it work. And that's in the works. I've spoken with people about partnering with us, possible cash infusions, possibly reopening with a new look and attitude.
Did you lose any staff?
We did, but we were bound to because some of the shifts were going away. We want people to work here, we want their paychecks to clear—which they do—and we told them all, 'Here's what's going on, if you guys need to find other jobs, we understand.' I mean, I have side hustles; I drive Uber.
How are you feeling about it all now?
I don't regret it. I'm not pissed off. It's disheartening when people are like, 'Oh, it's too bad Skylight's gone' even though we never went anywhere. Look, if you're going to a free concert on the Plaza, stop by and have a beer or a slice of pizza. We're not going to compete with free and we're not trying to, but what we do have is a very big space. We donate our space regularly because we think it's good for the community and we're part of the community.
Are you making plans for the future at this point?
The future plan is … we're looking for and have had meetings with possible partners. And honestly, if we can pull this off, we'll consider renewing the lease. If we can make this a successful business, we'll stay. If it doesn't work, we'll bow out with our heads held high. Nothing we've ever done has been nefarious—we really thought we were going to close, but then I said, 'Let's find a way.'
Do you think people are putting too much faith in the midtown boom?
I think people want to go to what's hot, and Meow Wolf is a beautiful space and amazing experience. I'm a lifetime member. Now that I know what Meow Wolf is doing, I'm going to be a straight-up nightclub. We're going to do DJs, we're going to do bands that bring 400 people, and we're going to do local. We're not going to fight for things that are out of our range. Going into summer, it's not a great time for live music in brick-and-mortar spaces, but the truth is, there are still people who want to go out late-night. There are still a ton of tourists. I think we, as a city, need to foster businesses like mine. The people with money are always going to squeeze out the people without it, and we're going to see businesses close. This is a pattern, over and over. I guess what I'm saying is, if you want to have a nightclub in Santa Fe, now's the time to fight for it.