More Dogs on Main Street
January 16, 2009
Sundance has arrived and gets into full swing this week. It’s hard to know what to anticipate this year. The core of the festival is probably not a lot different from other years, with the usual assortment of strange movies going directly to DVD. One or two will break out and be big successes. Some quirky things will become underground favorites on Netflix. The circus itself is about the same as always.
What’s likely to be different this year is the sideshow. Sundance, for those not fully engaged, is the annual bacchanal with lavish parties, liquor by the barrel, endless food, limos, and the occasional mention of a movie. Traffic is snarled and the simplest errand in town is an ordeal. Normal shops close up and sublet their spaces to become hospitality suites for different studios. We all know that the success or failure of a movie depends on the quality of the hors d’oeuvres at the T-shirt shop-cum-hospitality suite. "Citizen Kane" would have been a much better movie if the stuffed mushroom caps had been served hot.
There’s no doubt about it: Sundance is a good bit of business around here. Past estimates are that Sundance and the assorted hangers-on pump almost 64 million bucks into the local economy in a space of about 10 days. But this year, with the economy in shambles, all bets are off. The excess of the sideshow associated with Sundance will be dialed back from "shocking" to merely "appalling." There is lots of space available on Main Street, so that if you were so inclined, you could open your own hospitality suite. Lodging occupancy is a little soft. Studios are sending smaller delegations, and they are actually expected to go see movies the whole time they are here, leaving little time for the parties.
While the stars and producers aren’t exactly sleeping in their cars this year, there is definitely a sense that Sundance is flying coach this year. There will be some other big cuts this year.
For example, I have it on good authority that the big closing parties for the major studios will be potluck this year. Filmmakers with short features are supposed to bring salads or a vegetable tray from Albertsons, documentaries should bring desserts, and dramatic productions should bring a covered hot dish. It’s strictly BYOB.
The number of paparazzi on Main Street will be reduced significantly. It turns out that most of them are actually employees of the filmmakers who are hired to help create a "buzz" about specific movies by swarming the "star" of the movie (who nobody had ever heard of before). But with the tight economy, the paparazzi are too expensive. They’ve been replaced by the staff from the Sears Portrait Studio, who will be pursuing the talent with ratty looking stuffed bunnies. The stars’ publicists will be shooting and providing their own scandalous photos to the National Enquirer in an effort get a little attention.
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Finally, I have it on good authority that the number of virgins sacrificed this year will be reduced by about half. Filmmakers will have to bring their own because the official sacrificial virgin sponsor cancelled at the last minute.
The reality of the economy hit me earlier in the week. I had a list of errands to do in Heber. There is a convenience store/gas station that has a classified-ad magazine for used farm machinery, and I always like to pick that up when I’m over that direction. But the place was locked up tight. There were cars in the parking lot, but it turns out they were a crew taking the soft-drink dispensers out. The remaining inventory was being boxed up, and the place was done. Game over.
I don’t have any inside information about it. For all I know, the owner won the lottery and is retiring to Hawaii. But it’s more likely that a line of credit couldn’t be rolled over, and the fuel tanks ran dry. Heber has no shortage of gas stations/convenience stores. The loss of one, or even a couple, probably makes it possible for the rest of them to make a living. Gas in Heber is always about a dime cheaper than anywhere else, suggesting that competition is tough and nobody is making any money selling it.
But it really hit me that the owners, who had their lives invested in this long-term and seemingly successful small business, were forced to close up. The employees are now without paychecks and there aren’t many other options out there. I imagined being the owner, and having to explain to employees some of whom may have worked there for years that it was over. It doesn’t matter if it is a national chain or a mom-and-pop. When the doors close, the employees are just as unemployed. There’s no way to drop that news gently. I walked across the street to a competitor to buy a Coke and look for the tractor-trader magazine. There was no glee about the failure next door. The woman at the register knew that it easily could have been her job that vanished.
There is a sense that one empty storefront creates another. When we see the shop next door close, it’s only natural to start spending a little less and squirreling away a little more, just in case. And, of course, that is what starts the cascade. When we all simultaneously quit spending and start squirreling, somebody else closes up shop.
I finished my errands, picking up a few things at the hardware store. But the closed-up c-store had taken the edge off the trip. I didn’t bother stopping at the parts house to look at light kits for the snow blower I can blow snow in the daylight.
That’s $50 squirreled away.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.