Some Main Street shops report struggles during Sundance Film Festival |

Some Main Street shops report struggles during Sundance Film Festival

McMillen Fine Art Photography on 505 Main Street was not able to find someone to sub-lease its space during the Sundance Film Festival while a business next door was able to rent to Lyft. Jared McMillen, owner, says that he has tried to rent his space for three years but never has luck.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record |

Although Main Street the last two weeks was filled with visitors, many of the shops on the street were just the opposite. Near the close of Sundance Film Festival, several businesses were ready to clean up and move on.

It is considered a well-known fact among retail shops on Main Street that subletting their spaces to temporary tenants during Sundance is often worth more than trying to sell high-end items to festival-goers. But when temporary businesses are not willing to pay high enough rates for the spaces, some permanent shops are left struggling to make the bottom line.

Kristine Combs, owner of Livin’ Life Park City on Main Street, said that she hired a Realtor who tried to recruit a temporary business to sublease since the summer, but no one was interested in paying the amount that she was requesting. So instead she had to stay open, which she said was a nightmare.

“I’ve made a few hundred dollars in the weeks that we’ve been in Sundance,” she said.

“Subleasing is the only way to survive Sundance for business owners. If you don’t get it, you are in hardship,” -Kristine Combs, Livin’ Life Park City

Plus, the sign hanging over her business was stolen, which she said is going to cost about $1,000 to replace.

Combs said one of the biggest problems during the festival for the shop, which sells handmade items such as pottery, jewelry and home décor, was the location. The business next door sublet its space out to Chase Sapphire, a popular festival lounge, and lines of people blocked the entrance while trash cans littered her storefront.

“You can’t look in the display windows, you can’t get access to my store,” she said. “It’s really hurt my business.”

She said that, even if she had sublet her space out, the renter would likely also have had a bad experience because of the lines and trash.

The other problem was something that many stores said they experienced. Festival visitors this year just seemed to not be in the buying mood.

“They were here to party and get free things,” she said. “They weren’t here to shop.”

Jared McMillen, owner of McMillen Fine Art Photography, said he hardly sells anything during Sundance, which is why he shortened his hours this year.

The last three years, he has tried to get a business to sublet from him. This year, he also hired a real estate agent, but again he had no luck.

It seemed to him that there were simply less temporary businesses coming to Main Street.

“Normally we get tons and tons of calls and emails and this year we barely had any,” he said.

However, reports from City Hall said that the numbers were similar to years past. Beth Bynan, business license specialist for the city said that the city gave a total of 133 licenses to businesses and 119 of them were on Main Street. Last year, there were 112 licenses issued city-wide.

Bynan said that it is common for some spaces to sublet to multiple entities, all of which must register for a license. But even accounting for those numbers, this year was similar to those in the past.

McMillen, along with Combs, said that there are usually a handful of businesses willing to pay, but the amount is not worth it for the shops.

In order for Combs to sublet her space, for example, she said she would have to pay her landlord a 20 percent surcharge, about $6,000 to move and store all of her products as well as the cost of paying her full-time employees for the time not worked. If she could have gotten better offers, it might have been worth it.

“By the time it all gets whittled down, you don’t make a lot, but at least it pays your rent,” she said. “Subleasing is the only way to survive Sundance for business owners. If you don’t get it, you are in hardship.”

But there are some, such as Maren Mullin, owner of Gallery MAR, who said that staying open for the festival is successful for them.

“We really enjoy the energy and the new people and collectors we get to see in the gallery,” she said.

She said that her sales during the festival tend to be similar to average sales during winter weeks, so she chooses to remain open each year. Her regular collectors still visit during the festival, especially for the small events they put on such as art installations.

“For us, Sundance is business as usual,” she said.

Colby Larsen, owner of four art galleries on Main Street, said Sundance used to be a lucrative time for the majority of Main Street. He has worked at galleries on the street for 14 years and he said when he started, most businesses sublet their spaces. Even though he has almost always sublet all four of his galleries, this year he only sublet two.

He said that he would have liked to sublet the others, but few were willing to pay what he required. He turned down 15 interested companies.

Since many temporary businesses plan on leaving the festival after the first week, they hope to get a lower price, but Larsen refuses to budge.

“Take it or leave it. You can either be here two days or you can stay the whole time,” he said. “Everybody just wants to party on the first weekend and be gone Monday or Tuesday.”

And then there are those companies that rent space off of Main Street in pop-up tents because it is cheaper. Some hosting parties are even renting private homes, Larsen said.

McMillen said he and Larsen often discuss alternative options to boost their business during the festival, but after years of attempting different methods, the two have come to accept that there is little they can do to change the realities of Sundance.

“These are the worst two weeks of the year,” McMillen said. “We’ve tried so many things. We are out of options.”

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