Event industry struggles during holiday season

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – What’s on your holiday wish list? If you work for an event venue or rental company, chances are you’re wishing for more Christmas parties, weddings and corporate events. Businesses around the Ozarks like The Old Glass Place normally flourish this time of year. But, as you may have expected, COVID-19 has taken a precious money-making time away. 

The Old Glass Place venue manager Roger Malarkey has just one party planned this December.  In any given year, he’d have around 20-25 bookings. Malarkey says he doesn’t know if that one party will still happen because of where COVID-19 numbers are at. 

“We are generally booked every weekend,  and parties throughout the week,” Malarkey said. “I have caterers coming through, different DJs, different vendors that come to visit for these parties. It’s going to be a very quiet Christmas this year. It’s a significant portion of our business. It’s enough that it’s going to hurt.”

Malarkey says customers understand his business is doing everything it can to be safe. The Old Glass Place wears masks and cleans when it has events. But, there’s just one obstacle: the stigma associated with indoor venues right now.

“Even though I have 12,000 square foot space, and I can have up to 200 guests at this time, people are just uncomfortable,” Malarkey said. “People are concerned about being inside spaces. They go to Walmart all the time, but to go to an event at a space like ours, they just don’t feel comfortable. And, I understand it. We don’t necessarily like it.”

Malarkey has lost only two events scheduled for December. Most weddings have also rebooked to 2021.

“We’ve lost a significant amount of money this year, and there’s just no way to recoup it,” Malarkey said. “Yes, we may have their wedding next year, but we went a year without being able to do events.”

The Old Glass Place has had around six to eight events since March. Regardless, Malarkey says he feels good about his event venue heading into the new year.

“We feel we’ll be okay next year,” Malarkey said. “It’s going to be tight no questions about it. We’ll have to run very lean to find the funds to be able to pay everything that we’re going to need. I have months that we are totally booked out in 2021. If we can just get there, and if we can get people to take the vaccine, and it’s effective, that’s the biggest thing.”

His event space works with other companies like Eventful Rental on Campbell Avenue.

“December tends to be one of our busier months,” Owner Amanda Hemphill said. “It’s not our busiest month. September and October tend to be the big fall festivals, wedding. But, December’s close behind that. And, we’re significantly down this year.”

Hemphill says her business has 75% less bookings planned for December than in years past.

“That being said, this is the year of ‘last minute,” Hemphill said. “People don’t decide what they want to do until about a week or two beforehand, and then they’ll start coming in the door calling and asking for rentals. I hope that December that will pick up and get a little bit better. But, it is a scary time.”

She says her sales are a ‘wait and see’ type of situation.

“We’ve had months in the past where we’ve had a very quiet month going into it, but by the end of the month we look back and go ‘oh, okay, that was better than we thought,” Hemphill said. “We’re hoping that people realize we can get small groups together, or if it’s large spaces they can still social distance. We can help them to figure out seating charts and arrangements and things like that. So, they can still hopefully have some kind of celebration, just not being afraid to do it.”

In the meantime, Hemphill plans to make and save money with her commercial laundry facility and watching costs. Many spring and summer weddings were pushed to 2021, and Eventful Rental has those bookings in place.

“2021 is going to be very interesting,” Hemphill said. “I think the first of the year is going to be a little slower. But, by the middle of the year I have a feeling it’s going to get very intense. I’m hoping anyway. We’ve been here a while, we’re not going anywhere, we will be here in the spring.”

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