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Cancellations and funerals for event planners during second COVID surge

Alaska Event Services Co-owner Joe McLallen giving a tour of his warehouse. There's a lot of...
Alaska Event Services Co-owner Joe McLallen giving a tour of his warehouse. There's a lot of round tops, table cloths, dance floors, and the like, but not a lot of workers shipping them out to venues and events.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 4:24 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s very quiet at Alaska Event Services. During a normal year, Co-owner Joe McLallen said he usually has more than a half dozen workers packing trucks with tables and other supplies for large events like the Alaska Federation of Natives conference. Instead, it’s only him and his business partner, and a warehouse full of party supplies.

McLallen said he thought what a lot of people did when the vaccine started to roll out — that it was a “silver bullet” and that the pandemic would be a thing of the past soon. He said people who were planning large events thought that, too.

When numbers went down over the summer, business for Alaska Event Services was decent, McLallen said.

“It was just amazing,” he said. “The phone was just constantly ringing off the hook. It was almost uncontrollable.”

But now heading into the fall season, things are not looking good.

“And then, all of a sudden the phone was ringing for the wrong reason,” he said. “They were cancelling.”

He has had a couple of good bookings lately, like helping out with some staging for the recent Foo Fighters concert at the Dena’ina Center. McLallen said they still have the Alaska Telephone Association Show booked at the Hilton, but he’s really hoping that doesn’t get cancelled.

Unfortunately, he said the most business he’s getting these days are individual orders for a few small weddings, and a lot of funerals.

“We did a lot of them this year,” McLallen said. “Way more than any we could ever imagine from any prior year since I’ve been doing this for over 30 years.”

McLallen said he believes one reason they are helping with so many funerals is because of a backlog from the first year of the pandemic, when people couldn’t gather for them.

McLallen supports individual choice when it comes to mitigation factors like masking and getting vaccinated. It’s a tough spot where he sits. He needs case numbers to go down to start throwing events again, but mandates get in the way of events and gatherings as well.

The first time Anchorage had public health mandates, he said the events moved out of the city into other areas.

“When the mandates were in place we had a couple events that went to the Valley,” he said. “And they moved out there and did their event out there. They left Anchorage and said, ‘you know what, we want to move forward.’ I think that more of that would probably happen with mandates, which to me, personally, isn’t good business for Anchorage.”

He estimates that aside from a few summer spikes, his business is down about 90%. McLallen said the business no longer has the aid of programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, and they don’t qualify for a large number of grants and other aid keeping other businesses afloat, like tourism grants.

McLallen said he was supposed to retire last year. Now it’s looking like it’ll be at least another year before that can happen, and his business may have to go dark before he can stop working.

“I would say that we’re going to be holding on as long as we can,” he said. “And eventually it could come down to where we just lock it up and just let it be a warehouse until it comes back.”

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