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The 'Knotty' party is over

Popular nightclub The Knotty Burl closes as a result of COVID-19 impact
James Patry and Karina Leveque, co-owners of The Knotty Burl. Photo: COURTESY KARINA LEVEQUE

It is the end of an era for Squamish's Karina Leveque.

The co-owner of The Knotty Burl has been forced to walk away from her popular downtown nightclub due to COVID-19 and she is leaving town at the end of the month.

Leveque, whose family has owned businesses in Squamish since 1919, and her business partner James Patry made the difficult decision to shutter the club at the end of July when it became clear pandemic restrictions would continue and bills, especially the cost of insurance, would continue stacking up.

Nightspots were some of the first businesses to close after a provincial state of emergency was declared on March 17 and will be one of the last to reopen, with crowds limited to less than 50 people.

Clubs, festivals, and music venues are not slated to open until Phase 4 of the provincial government's four-phase restart plan.

B.C. is currently in Phase 3 and the final phase may not arrive until a vaccine does.

"Our insurance is $5,000 a month," Leveque said.

The owners considered opening with alternative events that would be pandemic-safe—multiple comedy shows, for example—but there's no guarantee those would bring in enough cash, she said.

"It is impossible to keep going. We were at $13,000 to $15,000 per month for the last six months [while closed]."

If it were a personal choice, Leveque said she would have hung on for good with the club, but she had to make the smarter business choice.

"From a business standpoint, it just doesn't make any sense," she said.

It is a heartbreaking reality for not just the staff and patrons of the club, but for the Sea to Sky music scene, says Squamish musician Will Ross.

"They opened up and in they brought an opportunity to bring mid-level bands and top-notch, professional DJs from around the world that were at a very high level and so losing that for Squamish kind of really bites, because it is the only place that we have that had the capacity to do that kind of stuff," he said.

The club has hosted well-known DJs including The Funk Hunters, Mat The Alien, Stickybuds, and DJ Nu-Mark among many others.

Ross started playing at Leveque's previous Squamish pub, the Ruddy Duck.

"She's been a really big help to my career here in Squamish. I didn't really know anybody eight years ago when I moved here and I started knocking on doors trying to play music at places and Karina... welcomed me in with open arms," he said, adding he ran an open mic night at the Ruddy for a long time.

"And helped me become a better musician, too," he added.

When The Knotty Burl opened in 2016, Ross's band, The Will Ross Band, played the opening.

"One particular show that was really fun, we played my birthday... it was one of the opening weekends of The Knotty Burl and The Will Ross Band had a big birthday show there. It was pretty fun to have 200 people singing 'Happy Birthday' to you at that end of the night," he said.

"It sucks that it is gone. It really hurts."

Ross' message for Squamish live music fans is to listen local by supporting those musicians who can pull something together during this time.

"If you do appreciate the musicians and know someone's coming out to play, make an effort to go see them... because the bars need the help, the musicians need the help, everyone needs the help, so don't put it off. You might not get it again in the fall. Now is the time," he said.

(Check Ross' Facebook and Instagram accounts at "Will Ross Music" for opportunities to see him play.)

Squamish's DJ Pete Wright—known as DJ CrippledWheel—has been a DJ for 17 years and a music promotor for 20 years. He's been working with Leveque from the start of the Ruddy Duck.

He was the DJ there and then started booking other DJs to come to town. As they brought bigger acts into the venue, Ruddy was the first place in town to charge a cover, something that was a hard sell at first, Wright said, with a laugh, noting the cover was minimal compared to what the same acts would cost in the city.

After almost four years, the 90-capacity Ruddy was bursting at the seams.

"We developed that fan base and it was about the scene of... wanting a place to go dancing," he said.

The Ruddy was sold and the bigger The Knotty Burl opened.

"It is sad, obviously," Wright said of The Burl closing. "I have nothing but positive things to say about it. It was a great run."

His favourite memories at the club include a Halloween gig with The Funk Hunters and a New Year's Eve show with Five Alarm Funk.

"You can't control it and you just have to accept it," Wright said of the impact of COVID-19. "I am staying in Squamish for now and as soon as events are allowed to happen again, I will be doing events in town," he said.

Stay tuned.

As for Leveque, she is packing up and moving to Kelowna next month. Her brother is there and she has some business opportunities there as well, she said.

"The line of business that I am in, nightclubs are going to be few and far between," she said.

With the cost of doing business in Squamish, she added, it wasn't a feasible option to stay and reopen a club unless she owned her own building, which was too expensive in the district.

"Who knows where life is going to take me. I am going to move up there at the end of the month, buy a house and look into opening another business there, or maybe even get a job for a little bit while my mind clears."