MONTREAL -- They’re one of the things Montreal is most famous for: small, intimate venues that have nurtured countless local musicians into international success.

They’re also facing their own kind of apocalypse because of COVID-19, according to people in the industry. They don’t expect to be able to reopen before there’s a vaccine.

The goal is to find “any way possible ot try to keep these cultural institutions open, or not open but alive, until we start vaccinating people,” says Olivier Corbeil.

Corbeil runs three small but popular venues, including Bar Le Ritz on Jean-Talon and Le Theatre Fairmount. This week the owners of a Plateau institution, Casa del Popolo and its sister venue La Sala Rossa, announced they would permanently close their third venue nearby, La Vitrola.

Though they’re technically allowed to reopen now, as bars, social distancing doesn’t allow venues to hold musical performances. Even the most established ones will find it tough to survive the wait for a vaccine, say those who work with them.

“Nine out of 10 independent venues are going to close” if some kind of life support isn’t provided, says Jon Weisz, who runs an association for the independent music scene in Montreal.

 A lot of the venues are holding on until they see if the government will provide some sort of lifeline. “That hope is still there,” he said. But if it doesn’t, expect bad news.

Montreal musicians say small venues are just as crucial as the big ones, and even more so, since nobody starts out on the big stage.

“You want to start with that small venue, 50 people, 25 people, and you get your way up to a hundred and then the 400 venue and then you did the bigger venues… it was important to get known,” says Jacques Alphonse Doucet of Radio Radio.

“No artist starts out at the Bell Centre or Club Soda or Metropolis,” said Weisz. “Everyone starts out in small clubs like this.”

At Casa del Popolo, which has played a major role in launching bands from Arcade Fire to the Unicorns, co-owner Mauro Pezzante has already removed the stage. 

The venue is trying to rebrand as a restaurant and print shop store, selling posters and art.