What’s hot for back-to-school season this year? Tents

What’s hot for back-to-school season this year? Tents

It’s the must-have item for many schools around the U.S. as they welcome students back this fall amid the coronavirus: tents.

David Duncan, owner of Big Top Rentals, said the Anaheim, California, company is “turning people away because we have no canopies in stock” as schools scramble for ways to enable proper social distancing. That’s helping offset the hit to his business earlier this year as marriage parties, event planners and other customers cancelled because of the widening pandemic.

“In the beginning, everything was dead — every time the phone rang, it was a cancellation because we normally do larger events, like the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine festival, and Orange International Street Fair in Orange County,” he said.

Nearly 100,000 U.S. children had tested positive for the coronavirus in the last two weeks of July, the American Academy of Pediatrics found last month. To mitigate those risks, many schools are experimenting with outdoor classrooms and dining halls in an effort to safely resume in-person learning.

Big Top rented more than a dozen tents, some as large as 40 x 100 feet and costing up to $4,500 per month, to the Fullerton, California, school district. The tents will be used as a staging area for temperature checks on students before they enter school buildings, as well as to create outdoor learning and recreational areas. Nearby Cerritos College in Norwalk, California, also rented 50 x 80-foot tents to hold classes.

“We have never done these kinds of tents for schools before,” said Duncan, noting that the company is also renting more to restaurants, churches and hospitals.

Schools struggle to contain COVID outbreaks


Jim Mariano, who owns Backyard Tent Rental near Boston, Massachusetts, panicked in April when sales plummeted. Then schools, both public and private, started calling in droves.

“We have seen a massive uptick in business from school systems in my area,” he said. “I got inquiries from 20-plus school systems asking for anywhere from two to 20 small- to medium-size tents. They were all looking to go long-term for as long as weather will permit.”

“I went from complete full despair and panic to having the best year I have had in 13 years,” Mariano said.

“I went from complete full despair and panic to having the best year I have had in 13 years,”Jim Mariano, owner of Backyard Tent Rental in Massachusetts, said of surging school demand for tents.

Courtesy of Jim Mariano

Tent makers also report seeing rising demand, particularly from schools. Anchor, one of the largest tent manufacturers in the country, has sold $14 million worth of tents since June, according to Justin Riat, vice president of sales. That includes a $1 million order for roughly 50 tents from a Jewish school system in New York that plans to hold all of its classes outdoors this fall.

Mariano estimated that about 80% of the company’s orders have come from schools, with restaurants mostly accounting for the remaining spike in sales. “Never before were schools on our radar at all,” he said.