Park City business owner criticizes Silly Market logistics: ‘Let them take a parking lot’

The Park Silly Sunday Market, shown in 2022, drew more than 196,000 people during the season. The event is centered on lower Main Street, but some businesses on the upper stretch of the street have long worried about the Silly Market’s impacts on sales on Sundays. | Park Record file photo
© Tanzi Propst 2022

Ken Davis has watched the Park Silly Sunday Market since it was launched in 2006 as something designed to bring some funk, and crowds, to Main Street.

Over the 16 years, the Silly Market has drawn large numbers of people to the shopping, dining and entertainment strip, but even after such a lengthy run on Main Street there are still concerns the weekly event dampens sales at the brick-and-mortar businesses.

Davis — the owner of Java Cow as well as two Main Street buildings, including the one that houses the coffee shop — is among the most prominent of those who hold concerns about the Silly Market’s effects on businesses.

With City Hall, the Silly Market organizers and Main Street amid discussions about the future of the event, Davis earlier in November delivered an especially noteworthy statement during a Park City Council meeting. Mayor Nann Worel and the City Council at the meeting received a broad range of testimony about the Silly Market’s current arrangement, but the appearance by Davis stood out even as others from the various sides delivered their comments.

Davis is a former president of the organization that represents the businesses in the Main Street core, now known as the Historic Park City Alliance, having served approximately three terms as the leader. He has been a merchant on Main Street for upward of 20 years.

Davis spoke for longer than 13 minutes as he provided the elected officials a rundown of the history of the Silly Market and Main Street. He, importantly, told them Sundays were the second-busiest day of the week for sales on Main Street prior to the arrival of the Silly Market, trailing only Saturdays. Sales on Sundays, he said, reached to 80% to 90% of the Saturday numbers.

He said the Silly Market was initially proposed to be in a privately held plaza on lower Main Street, but those plans were rejected. The organizers then sought to hold the event on lower Main Street, he recalled. The Main Street businesses backed the staging of the event, but the Silly Market, over time, broadened the scope to include an expanded footprint and extended hours.

“We determined that Sunday mornings were slow. Why not, you know, give this a chance? New business. And we agreed to do that. Well, little did we realize that the Sunday morning market became the Sunday morning and afternoon market, which was not what we had agreed to,” Davis said.

He said the brick-and-mortar businesses began losing sales to the Silly Market. Davis said “a number of businesses failed on the street as a result of losing their second-best day,” pointing to an unspecified chocolatier as an example. Davis said a business owner once “cried to me that his business was destroyed on Sunday and he wasn’t going to be able to make it and ultimately closed.”

“We were open to ideas, but we weren’t open to having business taken from us,” Davis also said.

The Park Silly Sunday Market brings an eclectic mix of merchandise vendors, food purveyors and entertainers to lower Main Street in the summer and fall. There are discussions underway about the future of the event, drawing some concerns on Main Street. | Courtesy of the Park Silly Sunday Market

Some of the Silly Market operational changes over the years seemed to be made in an effort to boost the businesses on Main Street. The expanded footprint, as an example, was designed to draw Silly Market-goers south of the Heber Avenue intersection, the stretch of the street where the majority of the businesses are located. But even after the adjustments, many on Main Street continue to worry about the impacts.

“People showed up and they said ‘Oh, there’s something going on down the street. Let’s go down there.’ A tourist who shows up has got, what, two, three, four hours, maybe, allocated for being in town. So they show up and they see the action. They go down there and they spend their time down at the bottom of the street and never make it into the shops,” he said.

Davis acknowledged Java Cow’s numbers remained solid regardless of the presence of the Silly Market. He spoke about past surveys regarding the Silly Market operations and previous appearances he made at City Hall. 

“I took the complaints and I went to the Council. I made speeches, etc. And it all fell on deaf ears,” he said.

The discussions about the Silly Market’s future are centered on the possibility of a multi-year agreement between City Hall and the Silly Market organizers. The deal to hold the event on Main Street expired at the end of September. There appears to be the possibility of the sides reaching a one-year agreement covering 2023 that would give them additional time to craft one for multiple years. The talks could restart in December.

Main Street and the wider Park City tourism industry have enjoyed an extraordinary comeback from the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, and summertime events like the Silly Market are seen as having provided a boost to the economic numbers. But Davis also noted the climbing property-tax assessments in the latest cycle.

“Merchants on the street are looking at huge real estate tax bills increase. Five, six, seven thousand dollars are not uncommon on the street. Everybody is just saying to themselves this is absolutely nuts . . . On top of everything else that’s going on, we’re going to have to cover all this,” he said.

In his comments, Davis said he has “nothing against the market per se. I think it’s great.” He said, though, the event should be moved off Main Street.

“I really don’t have anything against the market. I just don’t want them on Main Street. Let them take a parking lot . . . Or maybe even switch the day of the week. Instead of the second-best day, let’s do it on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, the slowest days of the week,” he said.​

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