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An estimated 24,000 Mormons, many who travel a great distance, will converge on Salt Lake City for the spring LDS General Conference, and area businesses that cater to the faithful throughout the year are busy prepping for the influx.
Some merchants say the bustle reminds them of Black Friday.
"It's as busy a day as after Thanksgiving, both the Friday and Saturday," said Stuart Christensen, co-owner of the Mr. Mac men's clothing store that opened Feb. 26 on the second level the new City Creek Center near the intersection of South Temple and State Street.
Mr. Mac occupied a storefront on the same block years ago, Christensen said, and has always served the needs of missionaries and males seeking church-appropriate apparel at affordable prices.
The spring conference runs March 31 and April 1, but Christensen said the retail action starts to spike on the Thursday and Friday before. And his store, like those in the rest of City Creek Center, shuts down on Sundays to comply with the religious teachings of the LDS Church.
"It's all hands on deck," Christensen said of the last three days of March. Regular staff will work extended hours, and part-timers will be brought in to handle the overflow.
The surprise is how far some customers travel, Christensen said, naming off a far-flung list that includes African and European nations, Australia, Brazil and New Zealand.
The conference inspires a similar burst of retail activity at the Missionary Mall stores in Layton, Orem and Idaho Falls.
"Most of the people who come in are looking for items on their mission list," said Tyler Hansen, general manager of all the Missionary Mall locations. "The conference seems to kick off the season for missionaries going out."
Jeff Clark, vice president of Deseret Book, manages the bookseller's flagship store that opened in City Creek Center two years ago when much of the mall and the broader City Creek development were still under construction. City Creek Center officially made its debut March 22.
"We're expecting record crowds this year," Clark said. Rather than the 7,000 to 8,000 people who typically come through his doors during General Conference, his staff is gearing up for crowds that could easily top that because of the novelty of City Creek Center.
Mobile registers will be added, and the regular sales staff of 14 to 15 that serves its largely Mormon customer base at other times of the year will beef up with 60 additional workers brought in from other Deseret Book locations along the Wasatch Front.
"It's like a four-alarm fire drill," Clark said.
Big-screen TVs will beam conference sessions inside the horseshoe-shaped store. Built near the entrance to the Richards Court condominiums, one side houses an art gallery, the other a Zion's Mercantile, complete with a food area that sells bulk candy and "grab-and-go" snacks.
During last October's conference, 9,000 patrons browsed the emporium for Ladies Night, offered during the Saturday night slot when male teens and adults attend their two-hour priesthood session at the conference.
This spring, Ladies Night starts at 6 p.m. March 31, with Lisa Clark, star of the new Web series "Pretty Darn Funny," serving as emcee.
Entertainment includes the musical trio Mercy River and blogger Stephanie Nielson. In 2005, Nielson began sharing the joys of motherhood in her NieNie Dialogues, writings that later expanded to include the challenges she faced after being seriously burned in an airplane crash.
On Temple Square, its history-rich restaurants that provide food to visitors year-round will also ramp up to quickly feed the conference masses.
"We get to the point that we have so many people here in such a short time that it's hard for them to get what they need," said Neil Wilkinson, sales and marketing director for Temple Square Hospitality. "So we add a bunch of stuff."
Extra offerings include a Saturday lunch buffet at The Roof, the restaurant positioned near the top of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
The Nauvoo Cafe and Lion House Pantry will also sell hundreds of box lunches for attendees to enjoy outside among the flowers on Temple Square, Wilkinson said.
The Temple Square eateries also shut their doors on Sundays.
"I think the city benefits tremendously from General Conference," Wilkinson said. "People come and walk the city and visit other restaurants, as well."