Love, Loss, and Live Music: A Conversation with Cindy Ciullo

(Photo by Cindy Ciullo)

Tucked away in the infamous New Jersey music town of Asbury Park is vintage clothing store Backward Glances, owned by live music aficionado Cindy Ciullo. In a typical year, the store would see it’s fair share of musicians and fashion connoisseurs, each of whom would peruse her store in search of eccentric stage wear and costumes. In a typical year, Cindy Ciullo would see her fair share of live shows in a range of musical genres. In 2019, she saw 117. In 2020, she saw less than ⅓ of that.

“It’s not my typical year,” she says. 

Asbury Park clubs and venues have shut their doors indefinitely. There are no concerts to see. Cindy Ciullo has felt the pressure of this pandemic both professionally and personally, as she’s not only dealt with the loss of sales but also the loss of her beloved shows.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Cindy and hear first hand about her experiences. In our conversation, she dove into the effects of the pandemic on her small business, her love of live music, the transition to a virtual concert format, and the future of live shows.

Below is her story.

The Forgotten Fallout of a Small Business 

How has your business been affected because of COVID-19?

“My life’s changed a lot in the fact that my business was closed for three months. That was a very uncertain time. I didn’t really relax at all during that period because I felt I had to do something to try to make money. Then the business reopened, which was very nice, but it’s just been it’s been a challenge to try to keep it going. Neither of the employees that I had at the time of closure came back, so I ended up doing the first three months after reopening just completely on my own. Even if I had had music shows to go to, I would have had no time to go. 

I’ve lost the musicians – they’re not playing any gigs. Halloween is a big part of my business. Many people buy costumes to wear to clubs, and since the clubs were all closed they didn’t buy the costumes. I did still have a few people who were going to small parties, but that was much less than usual. The closure of clubs is going to cut into my Christmas and New Year’s Eve clothing sales, too. There are groups like Save our Stages trying to get stimulus money to help the independent music venues. People probably don’t realize that saving the clubs also helps other businesses.”

Virtual Festivals, Fans, and Friendships

How has your personal life been affected because of COVID-19?

Cindy Ciullo with her husband Dave Ciullo (Photo by Cindy Ciullo)

“I go down to New Orleans at least once a year. We have our usual trip in the spring for Jazz Fest. We’ve been doing that for like 23 years. We’ve made a lot of friends there. Obviously all that got cancelled with the pandemic. Everybody was very disappointed. What I ended up doing because at the time I had nothing to do, I organized a virtual party. We got six New Orleans bands to do Facebook live shows for us. We all met up on Zoom and met up on their Facebook pages. It kind of made everybody feel a little bit better. Everybody tipped all the bands so they made some money. I’m wondering if I’m going to have to organize another Zoom party for April again. No way everybody’s going to be vaccinated enough to have a huge festival that draws people from all over the world.

I’m going to a lot less shows. We’re lucky enough to have the summer shows in Woodbridge. I also was able to attend the Exit Zero Jazz Festival in Cape May because that is the only festival that has happened since the pandemic. I’ve done that and a few shows that were put on by the Asbury Park Music Foundation. Other than that, nothing. It’s just odd.”

The Contagious Joy of Live Music

How have you dealt with the changes that have occurred during this time?

“The high that you get from music is contagious. Music is something that inspires me. That makes me feel better anytime. During COVID-19, to not be able to go out and not hear music, there have been some dark days. I just tried to soldier on and get through. I never thought it was going to be as long as it has been. Every month you go ‘Well, I just gotta get through this month. In a couple months it’ll be better.’ Now it looks like it’s still going to be many, many months until it’s better.”

A Smaller but Certain Future

What do you think lies ahead for the future of the entertainment industry?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if smaller shows are the future for a while. Definitely to start with. I think people are not going to be feeling comfortable going into these large crowds. Even after the vaccine, I don’t know if people are going to want to be going right away to a huge festival and Madison Square Garden.

We’re all ready to come back whenever they can come back. Hopefully, as long they can manage to weather the economic problems of trying to keep their clubs open, I don’t think they have to worry that when they come back nobody’s going to come. People will come. But obviously, they gotta wait until it’s safe. Even if some of these clubs end up having to close, which I hope doesn’t happen, somebody’s going to come in and take their place. It’s too important to lose.”

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