Taking Cover: Tents Are Hot Item as Businesses Reopen Outdoors
By Julie Wernau
Tent suppliers across the country say they are inundated with
calls from restaurants and retailers that hope moving business
outside will lure customers as pandemic lockdowns ease.
High demand for tents and canvas is part of a wider boom for
equipment and supplies, from plexiglass to hand sanitizer, that
companies are buying or renting to protect workers and patrons from
the coronavirus. That demand is raising revenue for some
manufacturers, while increasing costs for restaurants and retailers
preparing to open their doors again after weeks of greatly
In April, customers at 40 retailers, including Walmart Inc.,
eBay Inc. and Home Depot Inc., spent 47% more on party tents and
event canopies than they did a year earlier, according to research
firm Edison Trends. Public-health experts say that the likelihood
of being infected by the virus is minimized when people are
outdoors and appropriately distanced from others.
Delta Canopy Inc., which sells tents and canopies through
retailers including eBay, Walmart and Amazon.com Inc., said sales
are growing for the first time in five years.
"We usually do a lot of business at this time of year but it has
probably tripled," said Amberly Slavens, assistant manager at the
McKinney, Texas, company.
Blue Peak Tents Inc., a distributor in Illinois, Iowa and
Michigan, said restaurants will be in competition with other
companies that have rented tents for a place to screen employees
for possible infection and to expand space for lunch and break
Gregory T. Parks, co-leader of law firm Morgan, Lewis &
Bockius LLP's retail and e-commerce practice, said retailers are
talking about adding space for outdoor shopping, including tented
dressing rooms. Colleges, too, are considering using tents for
classrooms. Amherst College in Massachusetts ordered 20 tents and
Adirondack chairs, with plans to conduct some classes and
"I'm glad we ordered them early," said Biddy Martin, Amherst's
Brady Castro, principal at PRO EM Party & Event Rentals in
Phoenix, said some restaurants in Arizona want to extend seating
capacity with temporary enclosures that include air conditioning. A
basic canopy's cost per square foot is $1 to $2, he said, while
that for an enclosed tent with air conditioning is about $10 to
Chicago Alderman Brendan Reilly said his district, which
includes the city's downtown, has 100,000 residents but hosts an
additional 500,000 office workers and tourists each day during
normal times. He said he hopes outdoor seating will help draw some
of them back to businesses in his district that he said provide
nearly a third of the city's restaurant jobs.
Mr. Reilly said he spent much of last week going block to block
with a measuring tape and clipboard in hand, figuring out which
streets in his district could be closed for outdoor restaurant
Typically, establishing outdoor seating in Chicago takes months,
as architectural renderings are subjected to bureaucratic reviews.
Blocked-off streets in Mr. Reilly's district must leave room for a
fire lane, bicycle traffic, wheelchair access and pedestrians. Now,
the city is flooded with requests from restaurateurs who want to
set up tents as soon as possible.
"If aldermen had it their way we'd close every street down to
support the local businesses," Mr. Reilly said.
Kevin Boehm, whose runs Michelin-starred Boka in Chicago's
Lincoln Park neighborhood, plans to start by opening just a few
tables on the restaurant's patio. "What most people are grappling
with right now is things like whether we'll have to take those
tents down every night," he said. "They have to be secure."
Dean Zanella, chef and co-owner of Tripoli Tap, also in Lincoln
Park. said he is planning to rent a tent to cover the restaurant's
patio. He used to cram 50 people into that space on nice summer
days; starting Wednesday, he will seat eight tables at a time with
a minimum order of $20 a person.
Mr. Zanella is waiting for his neighbors to sign off on the
giant tent he found to cover the space.
"We are doing everything we can," he said.
Write to Julie Wernau at Julie.Wernau@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 06, 2020 10:14 ET (14:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.