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Old Town captures holiday shoppers

ANNA BLOOM Of the Record staff
Holiday shoppers shopped Old Town in record numbers, business owners say. Photo: Grayson West/Park Record.
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Mary Jane’s clothing and shoe store owner Lori Harris has already surpassed her highest sales day, and it’s not even Sundance Film Festival week. She was virtually bombarded last Thursday with shoppers.

"It was just crazy, at least in my store," she said. "I don’t think our lodging numbers are up, but I think people are generally in better spirits about shopping and spending money. Maybe the hurricane and gas prices and all that really isn’t affecting people as much as I thought it was."

Harris’ biggest day each year tends to be the first Saturday during Sundance, but this year, it was Dec. 29. The week leading up to Christmas was also good for business. She raked in double the sales of last year during that same week, she says. Some locals came in the week before Christmas, but last week, her customers were primarily visitors in town.

But according to the Park City Chamber/Bureau, occupancy rates during this year’s Christmas week were on par with previous years.

Numbers were only slightly up for 2005, reports the Chamber/Bureau, with a 2.7 increase over last year: from Dec. 25 to Jan 1, visitor nights were projected to reach at least 117,278 visitor nights, a lodging average of 80 percent.

Neither Harris, nor Main Street Historic Business Alliance member Mike Sweeney attribute the crowds to this year’s new event, Holiday’s On Main, which concluded Dec. 17, and involved a cash-prize drawing and a free parking promotion.

"I guess we’re on the map, and the Chamber/Bureau probably has a lot to do with it," suggests Sweeney. "We’re easy to get to and fun."

Sweeney owns Season’s Day Spa that occupies the lower level of the Town Lift building, which he and his brothers also own, and reports at least a 20 percent increase in sales over last week in his spa alone. He has also spoken to the owners of Rum Bunnies, a business that leases two units in the building, a private club and a grill upstairs. Rum Bunnies has seen a 300 percent increase in business as compared to previous years when it was the Town Lift Caf , he says.

"I know for a fact that our garage has been full and I’ve never seen so many people using the Town Lift — merchants have been very pleased with sales," he reports. "[Thursday] night, town was a zoo it was jammed and really kind of fun. I’ve spoken with art gallery owners and other shops and business has definitely been booming."

In a December 2005 report compiled by Commerce CRG statistician Mike Sloan, Utahns overall appeared to have a case of "pocketbook confidence." Retail purchases made a comeback for the first time in seven years, according to the report.

According to Sloan’s summary, the most recent monthly retail sales data shows an increase of 15.6 percent over the same month one year ago, with every major retail sector registering an increase. Furniture had the greatest percentage gain at 21.9 percent, while auto sales had the smallest gain at 5.3 percent.

"Not quite as strong as the 10 to 12 percent gains of the mid-1990s, but still large enough to help produce a substantial revenue surplus for the state and a profitable Christmas season for Utah retailers," Sloan confirmed in his report.

Though visitors were hot for Main Street this year, Sweeney seems to be remaining relatively realistic about his expectations for this week, and the weeks before Sundance.

"Traditionally, after New Year’s Day, we get a lull prior to Sundance. We’ll probably see occupancies slack off by 20 or 30 percent," he predicted.


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