MEMPHIS, Tennessee — "This kind of just showcases truly how empty the industry is right now," Kasey Hunter said, as she pointed to a neatly arranged, empty 48-table setup Tuesday afternoon along the Memphis riverfront.
Those in the meeting and events industry sent a message about COVID-19's impact on their livelihoods.
"It's heartbreaking to see people who have put, you know, 20 years into the industry that have to be laid off," Hunter said.
Hunter is with LEO events, where the company let go of 25% of its workforce in June, after stimulus money ran out and booked events dried up.
"Everyone has been going through different stages of grief," LEO Events co-founder Cindy Brewer said.
The ongoing pandemic continues to pound the Memphis area hospitality industry, with plummeting hotel bookings, sparse live music, and canceled conferences sparing few.
"You can subsidize payroll for 10 weeks, you can give breaks on rent for a couple of months - but when there's no revenue coming in, it's just a matter of time before these businesses will dry up and go away," Memphis Tourism CEO Kevin Kane said.
That's why those who set up the 'empty event' looked to show solidarity and raise awareness, as local COVID-19 capacity restrictions continue, putting additional industry jobs at risk.
"We were one of the first to be shut down and we will be one of the last to come back as well," Hunter said.
Those in the meeting and events industry fear the impact could go beyond 2020, as many events in the first quarter of 2021 are already canceled.