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The Resumption of The In-Person General Conference Is Expected to Boost Sales in Salt Lake City

Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Annual General Conference is returning to an in-person format, downtown Salt Lake City businesses predict a boost in business during the first weekend of April.

This is the first time in two years that the general conference will be held in person. Because of health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated on March 11, 2020, that the April 2020 General Conference would be held online.

In a letter sent on Feb. 11, the First Presidency welcomed members and nonmembers from throughout the world to join the live, in-person sessions of the general conference, citing the CDC’s relaxation of COVID-19 safety requirements and the Church’s new reopening procedures.

From April 2–3, there will be five sessions during this year’s conference. According to the Church Newsroom, because of parking and accessibility issues caused by Temple Square development, attendance will be limited to 10,000 persons per session.

Assistant General Manager Ian McKeever reflected on his time managing downtown Salt Lake City eatery Spitz, explaining how lockdown and COVID-19 requirements were especially difficult for restaurants like his that rely on gratuities and in-person consumption.

“We’ve been through a lot in the previous two years,” McKeever added. “We had a lot of short staffing, nobody was coming to work, and when they did, very few customers were tipping us.”

Although eateries across the country are experiencing similar financial difficulties, downtown Salt Lake City businesses have one distinct advantage: general conference.

According to a 2019 analysis by Womply, a software company that measures small-business sales, the biggest day for Salt Lake City eateries in 2019 was General Conference Saturday, with revenues 13 percent higher than a typical Saturday.

“On average, in a ‘typical’ year, the conference draws more than 19,000 people, half of whom the Key C. Gardner Institute estimates come from out of state,” the Downtown Alliance SLC told the Daily Universe. The other half originates from the Wasatch Front, from Ogden to Provo, according to the statement.

For the past four conferences, stores that would have had longer hours, special specials, and several events for general conference weekend, such as Deseret Book’s main shop in downtown Salt Lake City, had to close.

“Our downtown store was closed for the last two years, and it was a tremendous decline for us,” Christa Morgan, manager of the flagship Deseret Book, said.

The store will open during this year’s general conference weekend, as well as the following Monday, according to Morgan.

“We discussed whether the store was worth operating for this year’s conference and after the Church’s Christmas devotional last December, we had a return to normalcy in terms of client wealth,” Morgan added. “We’re opening during the conference weekend, although we won’t have any author signings and it won’t be such an event-filled week.”

On April 2, the flagship Deseret Book store will be the only one of the locations to open. Other restaurants and motels will adjust their availability and staffing to accommodate an increase in customers and revenue.

“We expect to be extremely busy,” McKeever said, adding that he will boost his personnel by 25%. “We’re already seeing an uptick in out-of-town clientele in this area.”

The City Creek Center mall, which is just a block away from Temple Square, will also see a spike in sales over the weekend for the first time in two years.

“Based on what our retailers have told us, we expect to see greater sales and traffic with the reintroduction of in-person general conference,” said Lisa Wardell, City Creek Center’s general manager.