Sundance red carpet means green for some in Park City
Business community reaps rewards of hosting film festival
January 20, 2017
For artists with a project showcased in the Sundance Film Festival, this time of year is one of opportunity. But for many businesses in Park City, particularly those in the lodging or restaurant industries, it's like a second Christmas.
That's the comparison Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, drew when describing the economic effect of the film festival, which brings tens of thousands of visitors to Park City each year. Most hotels in the area are full, charging premium pricing, while restaurants and bars serve more patrons than perhaps any other time of the year.
"It's pretty special," he said. "And it's kind of a bonus on the economic side for the community, and a lot of communities wish they had a phenomenon occur like this every year at this time."
According to the Sundance Institute, the organization that puts on the festival, the event pumps millions of dollars into the Utah economy. But for Park City, the benefits go beyond the money attendees shell out in Main Street restaurants or for hotel rooms during the 10-day festival. Malone said a dollar figure cannot be easily affixed to the exposure the event brings to Park City.
Park City's designation as the home of Sundance draws people into town year round and has helped make the city one of the most recognizable resort destinations in the world, he said. That's something from which nearly every business in town benefits, regardless of how much money they make during the actual festival.
"The part that is pretty dynamic is the fact that it's worldwide," he said. "It's not just one section of the country — this is worldwide exposure that the festival has grown to connect with. The fact that people associate us with the festival as a destination elevates us in many ways in their eyes. In some respects, I look at it as kind of like hosting an Olympics."
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From the perspective of Sue Demarest, owner of the Fletcher's restaurant on Main Street, Sundance is the single most important time of the year. Most businesses in town scramble during ski season to make enough money to endure the summer and shoulder seasons, and Demarest is skeptical that the majority of them would be able to make it work without an annual bump from the festival.
"It's the craziest, busiest week of the year," she said. "I think it's really good for town. There's the pain of the traffic and everything else that comes along with it, but from other business owners I've talked to, I don't think most businesses in Park City would actually survive without Sundance."
The experience can be different for many retail shops in town, particularly in the historic district, however. Many merchants lament revenue lost before and after Sundance because of the extensive set-up and tear-down operations that surround the festival. Others decry street closures that make it difficult for shoppers to get to their stores, or the influx each year of corporate brands that suck business away from local retailers.
Malone hears those concerns often, and said the challenges are amplified for another reason: Many of the people in Park City for Sundance are not the types of shoppers local merchants have molded their businesses to attract.
"The fact that it's such a different customer base during the festival than our typical customer base, it kind of impacts things such as retail, things like ski shops and the ski resorts," he said. "It's not the same customer that we're going to have two weeks from now."
Still, some shops thrive during Sundance. For example, Somer Gardiner, who owns the clothing shop Olive & Tweed on Main Street, said the festival brings a deluge of customers into her store during a time of the ski season that may otherwise not be so profitable.
"It helps us pay the very high rent that Main Street requires," she said. "It's necessary. Without it, I think it would be hard to make (ends meet) without that bump."