“We were closed for a year. It was a nightmare,” says Eladio Preciado, owner of Julia’s on Broadway. “But you have to figure out a way to get through it.”
Julia’s is a twenty-year neighborhood institution, with a famed drag brunch that played to a packed house before the pandemic. Now, with venues cautiously re-opening, they’ve revamped their seating and re-choreographed their shows to reduce the likelihood of transmission, opening the doors once again for audiences hungry for drag.
But the business nearly didn’t make it. With financial assistance programs failing to come through, Precado said he was forced to sell his house to stay in business.
“The grant process was horrible, especially for smaller venues,” he says. He applied for a payroll protection loan, but it took months to process, during which time bills came due. And when the money finally arrived, it wasn’t enough — because nearly all venues classify performers as independent contractors, rather than employees, the payroll loan didn’t factor any of them in.
In addition, Precado says he was turned down for city grants because he wasn’t able to apply fast enough. As savings ran out, his financial advisor told him to only pay bills that were needed to hold on to the business; and while that saved him from closure, skipping certain bills wrecked his credit. That resulted in the state denying him a disaster loan.
Midway through quarantine, he says, money got so tight that he had to sell his West Seattle home — at possibly the worst time in history to sell a home in that neighborhood, due to the bridge closure.
“We were screwed,” he says. “I tried everything I could. I didn’t know how I was going to make it. I’m surprised I’m here to be honest.”
Precado estimates that the business is currently at least $200,000 in debt, but at least it’s still around. Now they’re hoping to climb out of that hole with a new slate of shows — though capacity limits will make it difficult. Tickets have been selling out for brunch, but margins are still tight when you can only fit a few dozen people into the restaurant.
Why not build out onto the street? Precado offers a dismayed laugh in response to the question: “With zero money it was kind of impossible,” he said. “We were lucky to be alive.”
Julia’s survival is good news for local performers, too. Precado has begun offering his stage to other Seattle shows in search of a venue. Eskandala, the latin drag night, has found a new home at Julia’s, well as drag chanteuse Arnaldo, who hosts a Sunday night jazz show.
“Basically I’m using the venue for any night that I can to bring in other events,” he says.
Those shows come with touchless menus, touchless payment, dividers between tables, and online tips instead of the usual audience mingling. And those safety measures are here to stay, Precado says, at least for the foreseeable future.
“I can’t afford to make mistakes right now,” he says. “There’s no money to make mistakes.”