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Businesses in downtown Salt Lake hope in-person General Conference will return ASAP

(The exterior of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Conference Center. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – For the third time in a row, the General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be completely virtual, so the streets of Salt Lake City will be much quieter than they would normally be for a conference weekend. Business owners say they’re definitely feeling the pinch from the decreased foot traffic.

Avenues Proper Restaurant is also a brewery, so not necessarily the first place members of the church would go between sessions of the conference. Still, even they would see an increase of customers on a normal conference weekend.

“There are definitely a lot of places, when they get flooded for conference, we get a bit of that overflow,” said Manager Sean Riker.

Riker said their sales have taken a hit without all of the foot traffic downtown, and the city just doesn’t feel as vibrant as before.

“Having a lack of foot traffic all around downtown has definitely been a factor,” Riker said.

Exactly how much money do visitors spend in Salt Lake City on a typical conference weekend?  Officials with the Downtown Alliance say that number is hard to pinpoint, but they know it’s in the millions. Executive Director Dee Brewer said they don’t really look at it in terms of how many visitors are coming into downtown during a conference weekend, but how many visits, since some people make more than one.

Brewer said, “If you look at the respective sessions, there are over 100 thousand visits to downtown on a normal conference weekend.”

The Alliance is set to take a closer look at the specific economic impact from conference to see how it compares to other large events like conventions.

“There actually is data on conventioneers. That’s a different visitor than a conference visitor,” Brewer said.

Brewer said the average conference visitor spends less than a convention visitor. Many of them stay with friends or family instead of paying for a hotel, and they’re spending their own money. A convention visitor is usually spending company money.

He said, “A convention or a meeting visitor is spending about $900 when they come to town on hotels, on food and beverage and on entertainment.”

Still, Brewer said there are people who make a day out of heading downtown to hear the speakers. They’re just not doing that in the Conference Center, right now.

“Memory Grove is full of people listening to conference.  The Capitol grounds are full of people listening to conference,” according to Brewer.