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Park City businesses see possibility of permanent closures in coronavirus-ravaged economy

Some businesses on Main Street continue to struggle amid the spread of the novel coronavirus. The leader of the group that represents the interests of businesses along Main Street or just off the street says some could close permanently in coming months as a result of the downturn.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

There are businesses along Main Street that in coming months could close permanently as they struggle amid an ongoing downturn caused by the continued spread of the novel coronavirus, the leader of the group that represents the interests of the shopping, dining and entertainment strip said this week.

It is an extraordinary acknowledgment of the depths of the downturn on a street that exhibited at least some level of resiliency through difficult business cycles previously. There has not been such a sudden drop in sales on Main Street or in the wider Park City business community in recent decades like the one that wrecked the final weeks of the ski season and has persisted into the early summer. Main Street shops, restaurants and nightclubs were essentially shuttered for weeks starting in mid-March and the comeback since around Memorial Day has been nascent. City Hall has projected a steep drop in citywide sales taxes for the 12 months starting on July 1.

In an interview, Alison Kuhlow, the executive director of the Historic Park City Alliance, which represents businesses on Main Street or just off the street, said she is aware of approximately 10 businesses under threat of closing permanently based on the continued drop in sales compared to 2019. She did not identify them but said they represent a range of industries, including restaurant and retail. Kuhlow said the “future is very uncertain” for the approximately 10 businesses.

Across Main Street, she said, business in June has proven to be “stronger than people thought it would be,” but the numbers are down from the same month in 2019. Business in June is usually mixed in Park City as the tourism industry prepares for the Fourth of July and the traditional start of the summer season. Sales in July are seen as more important than those in June, meaning the next four weeks will be crucial for the businesses that are threatened as well as the others along Main Street.

We have a lot of businesses concerned about making it,” Alison Kuhlow, Historic Park City Alliance

The businesses in question after July will likely be forced to decide whether they remain open the rest of the summer and through the fall as they await the start of the ski season, whether they close temporarily until the ski season or whether they close permanently, Kuhlow said. The possibilities became more dire recently as the number of coronavirus cases in Utah increased and further public-health restrictions became possible, she said. There is concern that a rise in cases could further depress sales.

“We have a lot of businesses concerned about making it” under the worst scenarios, she said.

Shortly after the shutdowns in March it appeared nearly certain Main Street businesses needed to prepare for a long slog back toward normalcy. There has been a series of event cancellations that further eroded the situation on Main Street, including the weekly Park Silly Sunday Market, the Tour of Utah bicycling race and the Park City Kimball Arts Festival. The Independence Day celebrations will be subdued on a day that normally draws one of the largest one-day crowds of the year to Main Street. The special events during the summer have long provided a boost to Main Street businesses.

The Main Street leadership has pursued a series of steps designed to pull the businesses through the downturn. The most notable to date is pedestrianizing nearly all of Main Street on Sundays through the early fall, something that is meant to offer a unique experience and create space for social distancing. The pedestrian Sundays won quick support from Park City leaders and debuted earlier in June. Kuhlow said the Historic Park City Alliance is conducting a marketing campaign targeting people on the Wasatch Front and in places that are within a six-hour drive of Park City.

It has been rare for there to be the possibility of significant business closures on Main Street in a concentrated period since Park City rose in prominence in the North American ski industry starting in the 1990s.


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