Park City explores ban on Main Street chain stores
The retailers are seen as a threat to area’s authenticity
May 19, 2017
The window of opportunity for chain stores to snatch up Main Street storefronts may be closing.
Following the opening of several chain stores in the historic district in recent years, City Hall is exploring a ban or regulations to limit how many of them can be on Main Street. Officials and small merchants in the area see the rise of chain stores, which can afford to keep up with steep rent increases that have put smaller retailers out of business, as a long-term threat to the authenticity of the well-known shopping district.
In a recent report to the City Council, staffers outlined options of what a ban might look like. According to that report, one preferred alternative would be prohibiting any more chains from occupying street-level storefronts south of (above) Heber Avenue, rendering the 18 current chain retailers as legal, non-conforming uses.
Other possibilities include establishing a cap on the number of chains — defined as retailers with 10 or more locations — or limiting the total linear feet they can take up along Main Street. The report notes that both of those options would require staffers to find evidence backing up the number ultimately chosen as a cap, rather than choosing one arbitrarily.
The issue of chain stores has long been a point of contention along Main Street. Many say the retailers are pushing out mom and pop-style shops and threatening to eliminate the atmosphere that makes Park City a unique draw for thousands of visitors each year. Others, though, see the influx of chain stores, such as Patagonia, The North Face and Lululemon, as a natural market reaction to the town's growth and success.
For their part, City Councilors have directed staffers for months to explore ways to implement a chain ordinance. Until recently, however, the staffers, while concerned about the effects of large retailers, maintained that interfering in the free market may not be the role of local government.
Jonathan Weidenhamer, City Hall's economic development manager, said the tenor of that argument changed when L.L. Bean, a Maine-based retailer with dozens of stores around the country, announced plans to open a location on the corner of Main Street and Heber Avenue.
"That really kind of turned up the Bunsen burner and put a lot of heat on it and brought it to everybody's attention," he said. "I think there's a lot of pressure from the public and the community on the Council, which kind of trickled down onto the staff."
Staffers are still in the early stages of identifying what the ban should ultimately look like, but so far local businesses have been supportive. Michael Barille, executive director of the Historic Park City Alliance, a group that advocates for Main Street businesses, told The Park Record in an email that his membership is encouraged by City Hall's action so far and is open to seeing how the ban moves forward.
"Right now I think we are preparing to actively engage with city staff to sort out what the effects of various adjustments to the proposal might be and to start to form opinions after getting as thoroughly informed as possible," he said. "But in the early going, the comments I’ve heard and the discussion with city staff at our meeting this morning has generally been supportive of the effort to try to set some parameters for this class of business."
One group that may not take as kindly to the initiative, however, is chain retailers that are eying Park City as a potential location. Weidenhamer, for one, isn't necessarily expecting blowback from those companies but wouldn't be surprised by it.
"I think if we started with a ban, it might be a little more acute," he said. "But we're going to create an arms race if we allow, like, three more (under a cap). I don't think we know the answer to that."
Hannah Tyler, a planner at City Hall, added that it's also unclear what economic effects regulating chain stores would have on Main Street. A ban could make the area more viable for smaller retailers, but there's also a concern it could lead to vacancies and a lack of vibrancy.
"That's something we can't predict," she said. "I think we'll see what happens. That's a concern people will bring up, but City Council finds it more important to look at chains on a broader scale than to think about a vacancy issue. They don't think it's that big of a threat."