It’s been a long, difficult four months for almost any business in the country — but that goes doubly so for some.
At HB Sound and Light, the Grand Forks events-production company, the last four months have meant an economic beating. Owners Jamie and Tricia Lunksi say their business has been hamstrung by a sudden end to group gatherings — corporate conventions, concerts and the like — that make up their regular revenue.
"We've done some online Zoom meeting support, but nothing in comparison to what we've (previously) done,” Jamie Lunksi said.
Finding solutions has meant getting creative, like a “hybrid” convention that those comfortable with crowds can attend with a remote-participation option for others.
Another, which has won a nod from City Council leaders, will have an HB Sound and Light stage on the Greenway from mid-August until late September — enough time to accommodate Rockin’ Up North, set for Aug. 20-22, and the Greenway Takeover Festival, set for Sept. 10-13, and time in between when the stage will be free for other appearances by groups still to be determined.
“I think on a personal level, we don't have a whole lot of options right now, we have kids to feed, employees who need insurance,” Tricia Lunski said. She imagined any events taking place with social distancing, mask recommendations, hand-washing stations and the like. The seating area would be filled to a 50% capacity, she said.
And the project won’t happen if a spike in virus conditions wouldn’t allow it, both the Lunskis and city officials said.
“Of course, everything will depend on our COVID status at that point. … This is really a case of planning ahead and hoping for the best,” said Kim Greendahl, the city’s Greenway specialist. “With the COVID-19 virus, if things get worse, it will get canceled."
The Grand Forks Public Health Department is working with HB Sound and Light to advise the company on the event, department director Debbie Swanson said in an email this week.
“From a public health perspective, festivals and entertainment events that bring people together in the midst of a pandemic have inherent risks. … The state has guidance on events, but there is a large gap in recommendations for outdoor events,” she said. “While events outdoors can be less risky than indoor events, they must have careful planning that includes social distancing of participants by six feet, encourage face coverings, provisions for hand-washing stations and other contingencies to keep all participants safe from disease transmission.”
Those are all items the Lunksis say they’re keeping in mind as they balance business against the virus.
“Everyone's trying to say why it can't happen, and we're trying to figure out if there's a way that we can safely do something,” Jamie Lunski said.
Blue Weber, executive director of the Downtown Development Association, pointed out that plenty of other businesses are in a bind as well on coronavirus, notably in the downtown area where there’s a special need to drive foot traffic. The local street festival was canceled for pandemic concerns, he pointed out, but the DDA will still promote events it calls “low-contact.”
The central problem, Weber said, is that regardless of business’ willingness to welcome customers, people are still nervous about the pandemic. How do entrepreneurs find ways to make sure everyone feels safe?
“If we can make the people who are uncomfortable and need masks comfortable, then we've included everybody,” he said.