Denver's public health response to COVID-19 has pushed back the NoCo Hemp Expo, one of the country's largest annual hemp trade shows, to next year.
Originally scheduled for March 26 through March 28 at the National Western Complex, the 2020 expo was initially postponed until August as COVID-19 cases began to rise in Colorado and large public gatherings were banned by Governor Jared Polis.
Now, three months later, Polis says that indoor conventions will be able to return this summer — under strict safety stipulations and capacity limitations. But the National Western Complex is currently serving as a shelter for homeless men during the pandemic, and that temporary conversion was extended to at least mid-July by the City of Denver earlier this week.
The possibility of the National Western Complex still serving as a shelter by the rescheduled expo's opening date of August 6 was just too big of a risk, says expo organizer Morris Beegle — as was the size of the expo, a packed vendor hall expected to draw 400 hemp vendors and 20,000 attendees.
"We were most likely going to push it back anyway. NoCo is about a lot of people, a lot of energy and good vibes. There's just no way to pull that off right now," he explains. "But Denver basically made the decision for us."
So the expo will skip 2020 and be at the National Western Center next March, with same number of sponsors and vendors, Beegle says, adding that tickets to the 2020 expo can be refunded or redeemed for the 2021 edition.
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In the meantime, as COVID-19 continues to push back and cancel large events, the expo's organizers have gone online, hosting virtual conferences, discussions and vendor halls on Earth Day and earlier this week as part of a three-day Hemp Summer Solstice program. A similar virtual event for hemp lovers will be held on November 10, 11 and 12, Beegle notes.
"We know it's not a live event, but we're doing the best we can. I think we've created an environment that's more attractive than anything I've seen online at this point," he says. "The virtual expo hall is pretty cool, overall, and we can gather analytics from visitors."
Whether the cause is government orders or social hesitance, if large public gatherings continue postponing or canceling through the rest of the year and into 2021, "that is really going to mess things up" for event organizers, Beegle worries.
"We've never seen anything like this in our lifetime," he says.