Salt Lake City Becomes the World's Biggest Yard Sale

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Salt Lake City, UT August 13--Shopping for a new Gore-Tex jacket? Need a high-tech fleece vest? How about some performance base layer garments?

Start walking around downtown Salt Lake City and you might find something in your size.

Perhaps no group in the world knows more about battling inclement weather than the folks assembled at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. Twice a year outdoor gear and apparel companies from across North America converge here to show off their new products for the next season. The North Face, Helly Hansen, Columbia, Salomon, Nike ACG and Marmot are among the big names.

But even the most bombproof, waterproof/breathable jacket on the planet was no match for the tornado that ripped through the city on Wednesday. The F2-rated twister touched down right on top of the tent pavilions adjacent to the Salt Palace Convention Center, killing one person, injuring 125 and scattering jackets, hiking boots, vests and other gear over a six-block area.

"Dude, it was the biggest yard sale anyone has ever seen," said John Byrnes, a sales rep for several exhibiting companies at the show. "I walked about east of the convention center and there was stuff everywhere. You could have taken a shopping cart and collected enough waterproof gear to keep your whole family dry."

Chico Bukovansky, of glove maker Da Kine, just finished setting up his booth with his co-workers when the storm hit. Debris was flying, tents were lifting off the ground and he had no place to run.

"I was crawling around the floor looking for people to help," he said. "I pulled a lady out of the wall and helped lift girders off people. I couldn't go fast enough. It was mayhem. Our booth was gone."

Aside from the loss of several hundred booths at the trade show, the rare tornado also destroyed hundreds of trees, damaged dozens of buildings.

Given that about a third of the exhibitors lost everything from their booths, product samples, catalogs, business cards and computers, the show was nearly canceled. But without a place to meet retailers, gear and apparel companies would have had to find another way to sell their gear.

That would have certainly meant another huge expense on top of replacing all of the lost materials. And it probably would have meant higher prices for consumers, or in some cases, the cancellation of product lines before they got to market.

But it was decided late Wednesday to have an abbreviated version of the show, beginning Friday and ending Sunday. Through the generosity of many exhibitors in the main convention hall (which was not damaged by the storm), most of the 400-odd displaced companies that had been in the tents found at least a small chunk of space to hawk their products and meet with dealers.

"I'm really lucky to be alive," said exhibitor Bill Knight. "I feel grateful to be walking around. The man who was killed was not too far from me and two others near me were taken away with broken necks."

The man who was killed, 38-year-old Allen Crandy, was a set-up crew worker from Las Vegas. The Outdoor Retailer trade show brings 18,000 visitors to Salt Lake City twice a year and generates $18 million for the city. The ski industry has its annual trade show in Las Vegas, another spot where tornadoes are extremely rare.