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Utah Business Loses $1 Million Amid Coronavirus Concerns, Social Distancing

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Businesses that bring people together are taking a hit in Utah as concerns over the coronavirus continue to push people farther apart.

From business expos to holiday decoration to retail, Modern Display does it all. President and CEO Taylor Vriens said business has been very good the last several years, but the company has taken a beating from concerns over COVID-19 over the last few weeks.

“The whole event industry has just fallen off a cliff,” Vriens said. “Business we’ve had on the books for months and even years is just gone like that.”

Federal and local health officials have urged people to keep their distance as much as possible to prevent the virus from spreading.

On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert announced new recommendations that included avoiding large gatherings of more than 100 people. Not to mention the impact the virus is having at stores, on sports and even at work where possible.

Vriens said clients have called to cancel at least 13 events over the last couple of weeks, leaving the month of March empty. That’s a loss of more than $1 million in business.

“This time of year that event and exposition business is really carrying the rest of the company,” he said.

The sudden loss in business and revenue coupled with the uncertainty that COVID-19 brings prompted Vriens to cut back hours for part-time workers, adjust salaries for full-time employees and even lay off some people.

“We feel like our business is a family and to tell somebody that they’re going to be making less money or they’re going to be losing their job…it’s gut-wrenching,” Vriens said. And as president of Visit Salt Lake, he knows all the canceled events are also hurting the hotel, restaurant and transportation industries.

The experience has taken him back to the struggles his business faced after 9/11 and the financial crisis in 2008. Still, he said, “this is probably the scariest if the three I’ve been through.”

“There is so much uncertainty we don’t know what comes next,” he said.

Vriens understands the precautions and recommendations surrounding the coronavirus. He can only hope that the state stays ahead of the virus so it doesn’t keep more people away from each other and from his business in the coming months.

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