As Patagonia announced, Main Street braces for change
September 23, 2016
Julianne Rosen-Carone was saddened this spring when the rising cost of rent forced her to close down Rocky Mountain Christmas, which had brought holiday cheer to Main Street for more than 30 years.
Even so, she remained optimistic. She kept the business alive online and vowed to keep searching for a new location in Park City's historic district. Nearly five months later, though, her efforts have proven fruitless and a disappointing reality has set in: Main Street, she said, is out of her price range.
"The rents aren't going down," she said. "If anything, they're going higher up. And at some point, it's just not financially feasible."
Rosen-Carone is not alone. Increasingly, business owners have been forced to confront their worries that they, too, will be pushed off Main Street. Those fears have been exacerbated as big brands have continued popping up with storefronts along the street.
And another one is coming: Vail Resorts announced last week that it intends to open a Patagonia store this winter at the corner of Main Street and Heber Avenue, in the former Silver Queen Hotel building. It will be the second chain-branded store the resort giant has opened on Main Street since acquiring Park City Mountain Resort in 2014. It opened The North Face last winter at 515 Main St.
Andy Beerman, a Park City councilor and owner of the Treasure Mountain Inn on Main Street, said he is a fan of Patagonia's products and the company's environmental efforts. But he worries about the effect the new store, and those like it, can have on Main Street.
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"Their arrival adds to my growing concern over franchises and national brands on Main Street," he said in an email response to The Park Record. "Mom-and-pop businesses are disappearing and being replaced by these 'branding shops' that serve as high-profile billboards. Not long ago, you could compare and purchase your outdoor clothing at White Pine (Touring) or Jans (Mountain Outfitters) on Main Street. Now they have been replaced by concepts stores for Marmot, The North Face, Kühl and Patagonia. This is a disturbing trend which could threaten our unique character."
One of the primary factors business owners cite in their arguments against chain stores is that they force up the cost of rent, paying prices that are tough for local merchants to afford. The numbers don't indicate whether the big brands are, in fact, driving up rent, but one thing is for sure: prices are increasing.
According to figures from the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, retail space in Summit County went for an average of more than $55 per square foot during the second quarter of 2016, up from roughly $40 during the same period in 2015, and some spaces along Main Street have gone for nearly $100 per square foot. Meanwhile, the retail vacancy rate dropped to 3 percent, down from 4.6 percent in 2014.
If those trends continue, more local merchants could be squeezed off Main Street as their leases expire in the coming years, Rosen-Carone said.
"Being a seasonal shop myself, I obviously got impacted by it a lot sooner," she said. "I think the other businesses are going to be in the same boat coming down the road. I've heard from several other locally owned business owners that if something doesn't change, it doesn't make sense (to stay open) anymore."
Bill Rock, chief operating officer of Park City Mountain Resort, was skeptical of the idea that Parkites, and business owners, will experience any negative effects from Patagonia's opening. He said the brand complements the Main Street atmosphere, calling the store a fit for "our culture here."
He reiterated a common refrain from Vail Resorts — that the company values Park City for its unique characteristics — and added that the store will be a boon for Main Street in one big way. It will give life to a building that has sat vacant for three years in one of the street's most prominent locations.
"It will add to the vibrancy and stability on Main Street," he said. "It's important for us to help preserve the history of Main Street and be a good partner there. … To have a year-round store, no matter what the concept is, would be better than a vacant store. We're happy to be able to do that."
Rock also said having brands such as Patagonia and The North Face on Main Street elevates the vacation experience for visitors. And even those concerned about the chain stores have admitted that the brands don't feel out of place in a mountain town like Park City.
But Rosen-Carone questioned how much that matters. Main Street is special, she said, not because vacationers can find some of their favorite big brands, but because it offers stores and products they can't get anywhere else. She believes that distinction is disappearing and will continue to evaporate.
"It was that local talent of the owners buying products for their businesses and bringing a creative, unique flair," she said. "The stores were fun to go into because the shop owners were there and creating a design and atmosphere that represented Park City. The more of those stores that go away, and the more corporate stores that come in, it's going to feel like a shopping mall in any town."
With leases that last for longer than five years rare on Main Street, Rosen-Carone fears that the day when mom-and-pop stores will be outnumbered is coming quickly. The best way to prevent that from happening, she said, is for Parkites to show their support by patronizing those businesses.
"If locals want to keep the local stores around and keep these businesses intact," she said, "They have to support them. Having that local support for small businesses is the only thing that can happen."
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