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As SXSW kicks off virtual festival, small businesses take a hit again this year

Small businesses are hurting again this year without the in-person festival and the money it brings to the city.

AUSTIN, Texas — After taking a year off, South by Southwest kicked off its festival on Tuesday. But instead of seeing Austin's streets filled with people, it's going to be online all week. 

Small businesses are taking a hit again this year because normally the in-person festival brings in a lot of money. 

In 2019, SXSW brought in more than $355 million to the City of Austin. SXSW's cancellation and the coronavirus pandemic really pushed Austin's small businesses to adapt and make the best of what they were given. 

"We just feel really fortunate to really getting good positions to weather this storm and get through it," said David Norman, Easy Tiger's head dough-puncher. "It was a huge blow. We were gearing up. I always joke with people that we're the only bakery that I know of that spring break surpasses Christmas in sales."

Norman said Easy Tiger had to close its Sixth Street location because of all the money the company lost in 2020. 

"But we have a new venue out on Seventh Street, just east of the highway, that we're super excited about. I'm sure that would make an awesome South By venue in the future," said Norman.

SXSW Chief Programming Officer Hugh Forrest said they couldn't be more excited to welcome online guests to their festival. Forrest said the SXSW team planned this year's event for the past year. 

"Lots of energy, lots of enthusiasm, lots of engagement," said Forrest. "Really excited on how it went and really positive about the the next four days ahead. It's been a really, really challenging year. I can't lie on that, for us at South by Southwest, as well as for the whole city and, and the whole world."

"We've got 30 years of experience planning live events, executing live events. And so, moving to something completely virtual has been a huge and steep learning curve," Forrest continued. "That said, we've tried to keep in mind the opportunities that virtual offers. Some of those opportunities mean that we can get more international registrants in because it's easier to attend internationally when it's a virtual event."

Forrest said SXSW's international guests have grown because of the virtual festival. 

"We've gotten some great new speakers in that we weren't able to get in a real-world event," said Forrest. "It simply makes it easier to navigate in a virtual world."

Forrest said SXSW is hoping to have an in-person event in 2022. 

"We'll have so much pent-up demand from people wanting to be at South by Southwest again," said Forrest.

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