For nineteen years running, the Fly Fishing Show has lured more than 12,000 fly-fishing fanatics to the Denver Mart, bringing business to hundreds of exhibitors and generating upwards of $1 million for the local economy, estimates Ben Furimsky, the show's president.
But after the Denver Mart announced that it will close at the end of March, Furimsky and other event organizers were left without a venue for their 2021 shows. Under current COVID-19 restrictions, those shows would have been able to host no more than 100 visitors at a time, anyway — but Furimsky worries the closure may affect not only events in 2021, but in 2022 and beyond.
“There’s probably no more than four or five facilities in the area that could handle our needs, and most of them are already full. I’m struggling right now to find anything available in the next two-year period," says Furimsky, whose event had been scheduled to run from April 30 through May 2. "Ideally, we’d love to keep it in the Denver area, but if there’s nowhere they can serve us, then we have no choice but to look elsewhere."
And the Fly Fishing Show isn't the only annual event that the metro area could lose because of the closure. “It’s affecting hundreds of businesses," Furimsky explains. "At the very least, you’ve got an event every weekend in a facility like that, so there’s 52 businesses like me.”
In early February, Denver Mart CEO Todd Herrick sent a letter to tenants and show partners detailing the upcoming closure of the events venue at 451 East 58th Avenue, just north of Denver in Adams County. The letter suggested that the Mart had weathered financial hardship predating the pandemic, going into default with its lender in March 2020, but blamed a “loss of tenants and event revenue” for its continuing difficulties.
According to Herrick, the Mart will be sold through a receivership process by the end of March, forcing the cancellation of all events scheduled on or after April 1. “We are making efforts to establish a ‘New Mart’ in a different location through which we intend to continue hosting tenants and shows. We believe there is still a demand for the business model that we sustained successfully at The Mart for many years, and are in the process of exploring potential locations,” Herrick said in his letter. “For many of our partners this will be the end of an era, and for many with smaller events we will strike up new conversations.”
Denver Mart did not respond to requests for comment.
Furimsky, whose show is definitely not one of those "smaller events," had been anticipating lots of interest this year, since fishing has become even more popular during the pandemic. But he also points to additional challenges posed by Colorado's current Level Yellow restrictions, with unseated indoor events allowed to host just up to 100 people at a time — and then only if the space allows for social distancing.
“How is that even giving them an opportunity to operate? There’s probably that many people during our event that work in the food court,” Furimsky says. “They’re opening restaurants, hotels — you just had the Super Bowl. Safety is our concern, but there’s abilities to operate businesses in safe ways."
Because of those restrictions, Furimsky says that other event venues are not only losing customers, but could be in danger of closing down, too, like the Mart.
“There’s a lot of events that are going to move from the Denver area because there’s been no ability to operate,” he concludes. “I’ve spoken to many that have already confirmed contracts elsewhere, but the facilities they work with here in Denver don’t even know that they’re leaving. This other state is saying, ‘You can operate,’ and that’s an unfair advantage to that state or that county.”
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