LISBON — For a few weeks in March, as the state slowly shut down for the pandemic, Greg Young and Dan DeBruin dreaded picking up the phone. It was someone new calling to cancel.

Greg Young of Northeast Event Design talks through a remote setup for the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s monthly member breakfast Tuesday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Proms, off. Senior nights, off. Events and conferences, off and off.

“From a company standpoint, we got knocked down pretty aggressively,” said Young, who with DeBruin owns Northeast Event Design. “We went from 102 events on the books to finish out our 2020 down to maybe a dozen or two.”

The business partners, who started as rival DJs before forming their new combined venture in 2009, took stock.

The company specializes in audiovisual services, stage production, light design and video production for award ceremonies, corporate seminars, presentations, weddings and dances. The pair also ran the Skye Event Center in the former Promenade Mall a decade ago.

“Dan and I just got to work, utilizing the equipment that we have, what could we offer our clients?” said Young. “If we still serviced these events, what would that look like? We went back to our clients and said, ‘Here’s another option for you to consider.'”

Slowly, it’s working.

“As this is going on, I think a lot of companies are thinking, ‘Well, this could be the entire year, it might stretch into next year, so instead of canceling, let’s take a look at how we can pivot and still carry on with events,'” said Young. “That’s where virtual-style or drive-in-style events have sprung up.”

Young, 36, from Lisbon, and DeBruin, 40, from Auburn, are talking to restaurants about partnering on dinner and a movie nights from restaurant parking lots, or setting up stages for bands to play while people dine, watch and enjoy from their cars.

“People are looking for ideas to bring some sort of meaningful revenue back to their business,” Young said.

They had 16 different school events planned this spring, before COVID-19.

“We all remember our milestone senior moments such as Senior Skip Day, Senior Prom and Project Graduation,” said DeBruin. “The Class of 2020 hasn’t received proper closure to their high school careers and I know that’s been heartbreaking for the students.”

So last month, Northeast Event Design hosted a virtual one. Seniors around the state submitted pictures for a running slideshow, DeBruin DJ’d and more than 200 people tuned in over two hours.

They have drive-in graduations coming up for Kennebunk High School, York High School and Mountain Valley High School. Parents have also gotten in touch for help with outdoor setups, sound systems and video walls to host their own 50-students-and-under versions of Project Graduation and backyard proms.

“I think everyone’s just looking for an opportunity, let’s adhere to those guidelines in place but still carry on with those milestone moments,” Young said.

Corporate clients are exploring ideas around virtual presentations and seminars with breakout sessions in different, virtual rooms or hosting some attendees in-person and some online.

“2019 was a record year for our company; 2020 was going to out-pace that substantially, so we were really looking forward to this year, and of course now we’re brought down to our knees, at the mercy of this,” Young said. “Bringing things into a complete virtual format or a hybrid format is opening up a lot of those conversations. Will the paydays be the same or will the revenue be the same, absolutely not, but it keeps our doors open, that’s the biggest point for us.”

It’s a challenging time to be in an industry that books six to 18 months in advance, DeBruin said.

“Thankfully, we’ve established some great working relationships in the Lewiston-Auburn community and we are eager to assist our friends during this time of uncertainty,” he said. “In the meantime we’re staying positive, taking things one day at time, and maybe even enjoying a rare open Saturday.”

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