Worries renewed as Vail Resorts opens The North Face on Main Street
The North Face is coming to Main Street.
Vail Resorts announced last week that its retail division is set to open a The North Face store at 515 Main St., where it will take the place of the former Talisker on Main restaurant. According to a press release, Vail Resorts has entered into a long-term lease agreement on the space.
Many in the Main Street business community acknowledge that The North Face, which sells outdoor and winter sport gear, is a great fit for Park City and will be a welcome sight for consumers. But the announcement has renewed worries that Vail Resorts’ large presence in Park City could change the face of the town’s historic district.
Alison Butz, executive director of the Historic Park City Alliance, a group that represents businesses on or near Main Street, is among those concerned. She said she was not surprised by Vail Resorts’ announcement because the company has opened retail stores in other towns in which it owns and operates ski resorts. But ensuring the historic district remains unique and vibrant is her top priority.
"It does fit the Park City community," she said. "One of the things we’re talking about with tenant mix is we want to make sure it feels like a mountain town, not a mall. And The North Face hits the outdoor, adventure-type marketplace, so that’s a good thing. But for it to be a Vail Resorts store, I think we’re going to hear comments from the merchants."
The biggest worry, Butz elaborated, is that as more companies with deep pockets set up shop downtown — and The North Face will certainly not be the first when it opens its doors in early March — rents will increase faster than local merchants can afford. Already, the price for retail space on Main Street shot up from $47 per square-foot in 2014 to $58 last summer, according to data from real estate company Cushman & Wakefield.
"Vail (Resorts) is a bigger company that can weather increases and things like that," Butz said. "When you have a national company, that’s buying power."
Casey Crawford, owner of Prospect, a clothing shop up the street from The North Face location, said that she and many other merchants on Main Street share Butz’s concerns.
"As a community, we have to stand by who we are," she added. "Just because (large stores) can pay $75 a square-foot doesn’t mean anyone else can. It’s going to be the building owners’ responsibility to keep Park City what it is. And that’s a hard thing to ask them, ‘Hey, will you keep our rents lower, even though you can rent it out for twice as much? Will you do that because you care about this town?’ That will be the question."
Asked about the notion that the presence of large retailers could harm local merchants, Kelly Ladyga, a spokeswoman for Vail Resorts, said in an email statement that The North Face fits well in Park City.
"The North Face is a high-end specialty outdoor equipment and apparel brand, not a chain, embraced by mountain sports enthusiasts," she said. "The North Face also has a special connection to Park City as it is home to several of the world-class athletes they sponsor and who inspire the design of their products. Vail Resorts Retail and The North Face both look forward to working alongside our fellow commercial neighbors to support the vitality of this town and community."
Regardless, the Historic Park City Alliance is preparing. The group has been in talks with City Hall to figure out whether the city can — or should — enact measures designed to stabilize the cost of rent to protect local merchants. But currently, no solutions have surfaced.
"I hope this brings some momentum to these discussions," Butz said. "How do we keep a unique and authentic Main Street. That is our biggest goal. People come here and enjoy coming to Main Street because it’s not what you see everywhere else. Maintaining that is a benefit to all."
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Another ski season is in the books, and much to the relief of the restaurant industry, the outlook, like the weather, is looking sunny.