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Hard-hit business finds relief heading into the holidays

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SALT LAKE CITY – The holiday season means more this year for many businesses hoping to make up for losses. And so far, it's paying off for one Salt Lake company that was hit especially hard by the pandemic.

"We were really nervous how were people going to react," said Melissa Eror, interior designer at Modern Display. "Were they even going to want Christmas?"

No matter how you dress it up, 2020 has been anything but traditional. But after designing holiday decorations at Modern Display in Salt Lake City for 17 years, Eror was happy to see many people sticking to at least one tradition.

"Everybody just really wants a super traditional Christmas," she said while decorating a wreath. "It's cool to be a part of people's holiday traditions."

Seeing customers flock to the store like in past seasons means something more this year for President and CEO Taylor Vriens.

"That's been a real blessing to us," Vriens said. "We've always depended on (retail), but never 100%."

Modern Display is made up of both retail and events/expositions. And the latter is what normally carries the business, typically drawing in about 60% of its revenue. But in March this year, things took a sharp turn.

"We had so many cancellations," Vriens said. "We never thought we'd ever see the event and expo business just go away, which is essentially what's happened.

"We have one client who puts on four shows in January and February at the Mountain America Expo Center. And that's their entire income for the whole year. And if they can't put on their shows, that's it," he said.

There's no defined pathway out of this. We can't say at 'X' day this is going to be done. It's a moving target.

–Taylor Vriens, Modern Display president and CEO

Vriens and others in the industry were hoping to see a comeback in the first quarter of the new year. But with the direction of the virus and added restrictions at places like the Salt Palace, it doesn't look good.

"My emotions are mostly frustration," he said. "There's no defined pathway out of this. We can't say at 'X' day this is going to be done. It's a moving target."

Even now, there are employees he hasn't been able to hire back on because the events side of the business isn't back.

"We just have to be flexible. We have to be patient," Vriens said. "And when I get frustrated, I just have to take a deep breath and just keep pushing forward."

So far, they're seeing that push in the retail section heading into the holidays. And this season, perhaps more than any other, Modern Display is counting on customers to dress up the year 2020 with something traditional.


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Matt Rascon


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