The streets are spit-shined here in the hometown of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Salt Lake's ice cream merchants, booksellers and hamburger-flippers have finished training.
Welcome to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' conference weekend."On conference weekends in Salt Lake, it's the ice cream parlors. You can't get into an ice cream parlor from here to Monticello," said Mary Dickson, public relations director at KUED.
"Anything with a temple on it sells right now," said Bruce Hamilton, assistant superintendent at Pioneer Trail State Park. About three times as many visitors as usual are expected this weekend at the foothill park crowned by the famous statue of church leader Brigham Young. Many stop at the gift store to buy souvenirs.
Despite a lingering provincial image, Salt Lake City acts pretty cosmopolitan most of the year. Recent articles in the New York Times and U.S. News and World Report said so.
But for two usually blustery weekends every year, Utah's capital city returns to its roots and becomes a mecca for Mormons.
"One of the best times to go malling is during conference because it looks like a different city," Dickson said. "They're all in their dark suits and they are carrying their three-in-ones. And they're everywhere."
She remembers watching what she termed "The Parade of Dark-Suited Men" on the South Temple crosswalk prior to an all-male Saturday night priesthood session. During the Saturday night session, Deseret Book hosts a special Ladies Night sale.
Conference is a time when both local newspapers print colorful church-themed photos above the fold to capture newsstand sales.
Evening newscasts fill with scenes of wooden pews, lines of saints serpentining across Temple Square and multiple views of a golden Angel Moroni statue. These visuals glitter against the dramatic backdrop of the Wasatch Mountains, those famous "Everlasting Hills."
It's a time when Bill Alder, local media guru at the National Weather Service, tallies up the historical percentage of rain- or snow-showered conference weekends.
As regularly as conference visitors come to town, local clothiers offer semiannual sales on churchgoing suits. Most chains offer additional price breaks for missionaries.
It's a time when the popular color downtown is white-shirt-white.
The church, with 7.7 million members worldwide, imports some of its mission presidents and regional representatives for the meetings and training sessions. Also in town are thousands of the faithful, many with Utah roots, who find the televised version pales in comparison to Being There. Some become Lawn People, listening to sessions outside the Tabernacle on blankets spread on the beautifully groomed grounds of Temple Square.
Church spokesman Joseph Walker says some 35,000 visitors are expected to pass through the gates of Temple Square on conference Sunday. The church meetings are such an important event that Zions Securities Corp. planned a major building project around it. The church-owned development company won't tear up State Street to build an underground walkway until after April conference visitors leave. And the project is scheduled to be completed by October sessions.
For those who make the pilgrimage, a sidelight to all the religion is the shopping and the eating. Conference is a time to stock up on church-related paraphernalia, from scripture guides to gold CTR rings. At the Missionary Emporium, adult-size gold rings - the initials remind "Choose The Right" - retail from $57.95 to $165.95. Children earn inexpensive versions of the ring, the adage part of the training course preparing for baptism at age 8. But now it's become trendy for some teenagers and adults to wear grown-up versions.
At the downtown ZCMI Center, Doug Mendenhall sells animated Living Scriptures videos, kind of Walt Disney does religion. Along with a selection of tapes and videos, Mendenhall is offering a $10.95 set of see-through stickers depicting religious images that can be stuck right on top of scripture verses, serving as a quick, colorful reference, the salesman said.
Mendenhall used to peddle behind a massive, simulated stone display. But other stores at the mall complained. Indeed, Utah Holiday magazine referred to the styrofoam structure as the "ugliest monstrosity in Utah."
But, ugly or not, the attention-grabbing display sold a lot of cassettes, and Mendenhall misses the sales it generated.
"At the first of the week, they (visitors) start coming from Australia and Japan," said Lanel Peck, owner of the Missionary Emporium. "We try to be well-stocked with the hot stuff, the churchy stuff."
Peck says many of her customers are biannual visitors. They're not interested in Utah souvenirs, but eagerly snatch up churchy knickknacks they can't buy in their home-towns.
Conference weekends are gravy time - make that chocolate sundae sauce time - for Mendenhall and other merchants. "Those weekends are two of the best of the year, right up there with Christmas," said Richard Snelgrove, of the Snelgrove's ice cream family.