Kicking the economy, in cowboy boots
October 21, 2008
The shelves are slowly starting to fill with pair after pair of cowboy boots, many made in the familiar neutral brown tones but others elaborately designed with splashes of primary colors.
Some Western-style shirts are hanging on the racks, and a few pieces of logo wear have been brought into the Main Street building where a central Utah cowboy store plans to open a Park City location, boldly deciding to compete on the state’s toniest shopping, dining and entertainment strip.
A smattering of shops and restaurants usually appears in the weeks or months ahead of each winter, as others succumb to high rents and the seasonal nature of Park City business. But the opening of the Burns Cowboy Shop seems especially daring with the American economy sputtering and business in Park City experiencing mixed results during the national downturn.
The owners of Burns Cowboy Shop plan to open the store, a boutique for lovers of cowboy fashion, at the beginning of November, a few weeks before the expected crowds arrive at the start of the usually lucrative December-to-March ski season.
The Burns family, which has owned cowboy or saddlery shops in Utah since the 1870s, moves onto Main Street with price tags typically reserved for exclusive art galleries or fur sellers and an expectation that the typical customer will spend hundreds of dollars on their purchases.
"I’m not a fear-based person. I make my own economy," says Danna Burns-Shaw, a descendant of the founder who, with her husband, Scott Shaw, will oversee the operations of the Main Street store, adding, "I banish any doubt I have. That’s my formula. I don’t live by doubts. I live by desire."
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Burns-Shaw is opening in a leased building at 361 Main St. The lease, with options, runs through 2029 and covers about 3,000 square feet, about 1,500 to display merchandise and the rest being upper-level office and storage space.
She declines to talk about lease rates, but base commercial lease rates on Main Street south of Heber Avenue generally run as high as $60 per square foot, observers say. They say the Cowboy Shop might be the only new lease signed on upper Main Street in the last six months, but they acknowledge there is little vacancy.
Burns-Shaw also does not discuss the capital needed to start the Park City location, but she says she did not need to take out loans. She says building materials are less expensive than they typically are since housing construction has dipped, reducing the cost of opening on Main Street. She says the family’s other store, in the Central Utah city of Salina, could financially support the startup of the Park City location, if need be. She plans to recoup the money spent opening the store by its first anniversary.
Inside, the scent of leather is pervasive as hundreds of cowboy boots and other leather goods are put on display. The store will sell cowboy hats, belts, wallets, saddles, chaps and spurs as well. A pair of cowboy boots will run between $150 and $12,500, cowboy hats are set at between $100 and $2,000, and saddles will command prices to $75,000.
Burns-Shaw anticipates customers will spend between $300 and $400, on average, on purchases in Park City, double what people buying in the Salina store spend.
"What we sell is the experience, the cowboy experience, the cowboy way," she says.
No worry about Wall Street
Burns-Shaw has envisioned expanding to Park City for as long as 20 years, before the city’s 1990s boom era that saw a major expansion in the tourism industry and a fast-growing population. She says she has worked continuously on opening the Main Street store since April.
Main Street offers high-priced boutiques and art galleries that cater to some Parkites and many of the wealthy skiers, who often spend into five figures on a vacation.
But there are early indications the Cowboy Shop could open at the start of a down season. The Park City Chamber/Bureau reports the number of phone calls from people inquiring about ski vacations slid considerably in the fall, though officials there say the busiest booking month is January, and one well-regarded economic firm has indicated Summit County is in a geographic area at risk of a recession.
Moody’s Economy.com used August labor statistics to determine the at-risk status of the region stretching through Summit County, Salt Lake County and Tooele County. The company does not separate the counties, making Summit County’s recession risk unclear. An economist at Moody’s Economy.com, Andrew Gledhill, says areas with economies relying on tourism will suffer with the national economy.
"I’m coming in entry level. I don’t know what’s good or bad," Burns-Shaw counters. "I’m going to be grateful for anything. I’m new."
Main Street is readying for the ski season, and the leader of the Historic Main Street Business Alliance, a merchants group, says new stores like the Cowboy Shop must prepare for the seasonal trends in Park City business.
Jeff Ward, the president of the alliance and the general manager of 350 Main restaurant and The Spur Bar & Grill, says he is not surprised that a store like the Cowboy Shop is opening, saying some entrepreneurs see business opportunities in a shaky economy. He says Park City is an attractive destination, creating a built-in base of customers who visit Main Street when they are vacationing. He admits it is difficult to project how much shopping people will do in the upcoming ski season, though
"That’s the economic wild card, what they do in Park City," Ward says, adding he has not conducted a census of anticipated business openings but indicating several others, including restaurants, plan to debut before the arrival of the skier crowds.
Main Street has trended toward the upscale in the years since the 2002 Winter Olympics, and the Cowboy Shop’s competition includes high-style clothing boutiques as well as the art galleries.
Chloe Lane, a fashionable clothier on Main Street for the last six years, once sold upscale cowboy boots, but the owner, Michael Gribetz, says his customers preferred other boot styles. Gribetz says, though, the Cowboy Shop could capture a market on Main Street with "a great niche."
"I’m going to be one of their customers. I love wearing cowboy boots," he says. "It’s a very fun look, a very cool look."
Gribetz, meanwhile, predicts Park City’s tourism industry will continue to expand, and he says people who own vacation homes help buoy business on Main Street. He says the downturn should not be considered as someone times a business opening like the Cowboy Shop.
"You don’t open a store for 90 days worth of business. You open a store for years of success," Gribetz says.
At the Cowboy Shop, the Lucchese and Old Gringo boots, two of the store’s most important brands, await browsing customers. The buyer might be someone from Los Angeles, a crucial tourism market for Park City, looking to outdo a neighbor’s sense of style. Or they might hail from New York City or Boston, where they could boast of their Old West find on their trip when they get home, even though Park City’s beginnings were as a silver-mining camp, not as a ranching outpost where cowboys would have been found.
Burns-Shaw shrugs when contemplating the economy, saying her plans do not depend on the erratic stock markets. The Cowboy Shop, she expects, will be competitive in a down economy, regardless of the value of the financial indices at the closing bell each day.
"I can’t control Wall Street," she says. "I can control Burns Cowboy Shop."