‘It’s going to be a dark winter’: Event industry rallies for more funding from state

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo held her weekly coronavirus briefing on Thursday, workers from industries affected by her ongoing restrictions rallied outside to plead for more help from the state.

Dusting off their speakers and screens that have been used very little — if at all — these past few months, the group of mostly wedding and event industry professionals gathered across the street from the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence, where the briefing was being held.

The planners, caterers, photographers, florists and other workers spread out to show they can hold COVID-19-safe events.

Like so many industries, the pandemic has drained their profits.

“We lost $5 million and 200 jobs. That’s a lot,” said Kate DeCosta of Newport Experience.

But when your livelihood depends on people gathering, the situation is especially unfavorable.

“We usually cap off about 37-42 weddings,” said Erica Trombetti of Newport-based Infinite Events. “We had two this year.”

“We need funding. We’re not going to be working for a full year and beyond that,” organizer Luke Renchan added.

Renchan told 12 News when it comes to scheduling events, “consumer confidence is not there.”

“We want to build that up. We want to build the trust and keep people safe,” he said. “This is the time of year when we get down payments and reserve their events, and that’s not happening quite as much.”

Renchan said his business had roughly 70 events last December. This month — he has two, and they’re both virtual.

The demonstrators were joined by Raimondo’s number-two — Lt. Gov. Dan McKee — who said the governor needs to do more for these industries.

“I think the thing is, there are dollars that are available,” he said. “Other states have been more aggressive, and we need to continue to get the dollars in the pockets of these small businesses.”

During her briefing, Raimondo announced grants specifically to help those businesses.

But it’s more than just funding that the group is seeking. What they really want is assurance for their 2021 season, and a meeting with Raimondo and R.I. Commerce to plan that out.

Additionally, the group is requesting a trained COVID-19 safety officer who would attend professional events to ensure guidance is followed, fluctuating capacity restrictions in lock-step with fluctuating positivity rates, and rapid testing at weddings.

On top of that, they’re trying to keep spirits high.

“Their morale is low,” Renchan said. “Funding is going to help through this dark winter we are about to have. Because it is going to be a dark winter.”

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