LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Like so many others, the tent business was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. But there's new hope, as restaurants across the city look to expand outdoor dining space.

"At first it was looking really, really grim ... all of our places were canceling," Ray Wilberding said.

Wilberding owns Big Top Tent, a Louisville tent business that has been operating for 20 years. He says he's never experienced something like the challenge of a pandemic. In his business, the impact has caused a flood of event cancellations. 

"All of the major events, big concerts ... as far as all the way through October of this year and it was kind of difficult," he said.

First, he started supplying tents to hospitals and medical centers that needed more outdoor space for patients. Then some unexpected good news came when the state announced Kentucky restaurants can open on May 22 with unlimited outdoor space.

The new regulations opened the door for a new opportunity for Wilberding as restaurants look to expand outdoors.

"For our business, it's turning around," he said. "We're no longer the corporate people, now we're the restaurant people, and we look forward to working with as many restaurants as possible."

He says he has been contacted by over 20 different restaurants just in the last few days. Tents will be put up in parking lots across the city this week to assist with carry out and outdoor dining.

"We're getting into one to three month rentals out of a time and fortunately we have a big inventory of tents."

The restaurant rentals should help Big Top make up for this season's canceled events while also allowing small businesses in the community to get back to work.

"It's a win win for all of us," Wilberding said. 

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