Trade shows hit hard by ban on large gatherings

Taboo show and auto auction at Westerner Park postponed

Alberta’s recommendation against holding large gatherings has had an immediate impact — including among those who rely on trade shows and other events.

Michelle Heney was busy taking down the Taboo: The Naughty but Nice Sex Show on Friday afternoon, while fearing for her future.

“I rent a house. My entire life depends on me working here,” said Heney at Westerner Park’s Stockmen’s Pavilion.

“Without this job, I can’t pay my rent and bills, and feed my son, let alone buy shampoo or, God forbid, buy something for myself.”

Heney, who travels all over setting up shows for a temp agency, said workers got word Thursday afternoon the government was advising against holding gatherings of more than 250 people.

“I’m cried myself to sleep last night, actually — and I’m a tough broad. It impacts me greatly. It’s changing my life and I’m worried about being homeless.

“I’ve never been on welfare in my life. I might have to do that.”

Heney said this is one of her busiest times, and she works long hours to pay the bills.

“I do nine days in a row, sometimes. I’ll do two jobs for two different companies in a day.

“What will happen to the temp agencies? Will I even be able to temp?”

Todd Schwindt, owner of The Electric Garage, was all set to run his 14th annual show at Westerner Park, with about 150 gleaming cars lined up, when he got word of the ban.

He had no choice but to quickly improvise. With no tire kickers allowed in the venue, he went to online auctions, including an online timed auction, which began Friday at 5 p.m. and runs to March 20.

“The cars were here already, checked in and there were over 300 pieces of memorabilia,” he said.

“We’re doing everything we can to get the cars sold,” he said, as he was taking hundreds of photos for the online auction.

For Schwindt, getting ready for the show is a year-long venture. He did not expect the government’s announcement.

“I didn’t think they would shut down all shows and activities, considering our economic climate,” he said. “It’s pretty aggressive.”

Kevin Blackburn, a managing partner with Canwest Productions Inc., whose company oversees trade shows all over the province, including Taboo, said the government’s decision will have a big impact.

“This is one of five more events we had coming up in the next month.”

Venues and vendors, including some from as far away as Ontario, were booked, and speakers were to be flying in from all over the country. Some of the tattoo artists who had been lined up for an upcoming show were international.

“It’s a heavy blow to Canwest Productions, for sure. So, we’re just putting contingency plans in place and figuring out what the next step is.”

Blackburn said postponing the shows will push their spring season into the summer, and they will likely do more shows in the fall than they usually do.

“It’s difficult. We’re still processing,” he said. “There’s a lot of moving parts to the whole situation.

“Because it’s something we’ve never had to deal with before, and it’s so new and so unpredictable, it’s going to be really interesting to see how it all shakes out.”

Blackburn expects all provinces will soon be closing down venues expected to draw large numbers of people.

“I do believe the country is doing the right thing. But I think it’s going to be tough for a lot of people.”

Friends of his in the business were running an auto show in Calgary and a boat and sportsman show — both huge events — and had already opened to the public when they got word they had to shut down and escort everyone out.

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