One major protocol outlined by health officials in the effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing. But that, coupled with travel restrictions around the world, has led to what some are calling an unprecedented number of event cancellations — from corporate meetings to international concert tours. And it's hard times ahead for a number of industries that count on those gatherings.
"As long as we reschedule it, that's all that matters to me,” says caterer Jeff Ashey, on the phone with a client. “Thank you very much, okay you're welcome, bye bye.” He hangs up. "And that was another one."
It's one of dozens of cancellations that have been rolling in for Jeff's Catering in Brewer since the new coronavirus was declared a pandemic.
Ashey has weathered 35 years of ups and downs in the event business, but even so, he's wondering what he'll do with all the food that he's ordered. “Hopefully we won't lose anything, but we don't gain the revenue out of it for a while either."
Ashey says he can keep, return, use or donate some of the food but he is still going to take a hit.
Ashey says, on a positive note, that about half of the people who have cancelled have told him they plan to rebook when the pandemic is over. He also says he is no longer able to offer hours to a number of part time employees, but, for now, he is maintaining seven employees with what they have.
Across town, it is a different story.
"I had no choice but laying everybody off at this point," says Mark Braveman, who provides sound and lighting equipment for touring bands, as well as production for conferences and corporate events at his company, Braveman Audio Visual.
He says he's had to let his four full time employees go, plus a number of part timers. Braveman says he had 14 people on the payroll for gigs just this week, but everything on his calendar has been canceled. Normally, he would be gearing up for a busy season of graduation and other events, with solid bookings through October.
"We've even put off prepping right now because we don't know what's happening, you know? A lot of these gigs take a long time to produce and build, and I mean we're holding on as long as we can, but without some sort of stimulus — if this goes on more than a couple of weeks, this could be crushing."
Braveman is now looking to apply for some assistance through the $50 billion Small Business Administration relief package announced by President Trump Wednesday.
He is hardly alone. Major sporting events, concerts are affected, even Broadway — where the show must famously 'go on' — has closed its doors.
Doug Born is with local 114 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union for backstage technicians. He says he has never witnessed cancellations on such a sweeping scale.
"All of PSO, all of Portland Ovations, all of Waterfront Concerts, The Mariners are done for the year. The Harlem Globetrotters have bailed. If there's not a show, we don't work. Period, Full stop. And we're not working for probably a month."
And maybe longer, he says, depending on how long the crisis lasts.
Originally published March 15, 2020 at 6:00 a.m. ET.