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Utah business owners praise lifting of restrictions on mass gatherings

(The Inn On The Hill, which had to turn away customers because of restrictions on mass gatherings. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – Concert promoters, restaurant managers and hotel owners in Salt Lake County are thrilled to hear they’re in one of five counties going from the “high” to “moderate” COVID-19 transmission level.  That means there are no limits on mass gatherings for those Utah counties as long as people follow safety precautions.  

When the pandemic shutdowns began, three industries in Utah took the harshest economic blows, namely entertainment, hospitality and dining. 

Entertainment

The Utah Live Concerts Foundation was formed in 2020 to help struggling musicians and stage technicians while performances were canceled.  Foundation board member John Pilmer says they were able to host a safe concert in Orem in August, but rising case levels shut everything down shortly after that.  He’s convinced the methods that kept people safe in August will keep people safe in the future.

He says, “We’re excited to share that benefit this year and help cities get back to festivals and concerts.”

The question is… will people come? Pilmer says not everyone will be convinced that large mass gatherings in Utah are safe, which is why people still need to be smart about the spread of COVID-19.

“There are still going to be people who are afraid and concerned.  We want to help educate people that there are still things that we can do that are good to make sure we’re safe, whether it’s catching the flu or catching COVID.”

Hospitality

The limits on gatherings actually forced some hotels, like Inn On The Hill, to turn customers away.  Owner Philip McCarthey one of the best experiences in his hotel is the interaction customers could have with each other over breakfast, but, the recent restrictions on gatherings wouldn’t allow visitors to interact outside of their group.

“While you were sometimes able to put people in rooms, it was just such a different experience.  You would have to explain that while The Inn On The Hill is a Bed and Breakfast, we can’t actually give you breakfast,” he says.

McCarthey believes the lifting of these restrictions will have a much bigger impact on his other property, the McCune Mansion.  They’ll be able to book weddings and other events that had been prohibited until now.

He says, “People wanted to have 25, 30 or 40 people, and we’d say, ‘I’m sorry.  I just can’t accommodate that.’”

However, McCarthey says his staff will have to be extra vigilant in enforcing that people wear masks and eat only in authorized areas.

Dining

Restaurants like Fillings and Emulsions Patisserie in West Valley don’t rely too heavily on dine-in business.  They were already doing mostly online sales and to-go orders before restaurants closed.  So, the COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings didn’t gut their business, however, owner Adalberto Diaz says he watched as many other restaurant owners shut their doors, permanently.

Diaz says, “I do business with other companies that lost 96 to 98 percent of revenue.”

He believes many restaurants and many customers have adapted to a take-out or delivery mindset, and he estimates only dining rooms may only be half-full for a while.

“We’re not going back to normal.  That ‘normal’ is old and there’s a ‘new normal’ now,” he says.


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