Park City businessman: ‘The black swan has landed’ on Main Street, an ominous sign
John Kenworthy, a Main Street business owner, sees the situation on the shopping, dining and entertainment strip as being precarious amid a continued economic downturn caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The owner of Flanagan’s on Main, Kenworthy in an interview offered a blunt assessment of what he sees on Main Street four months after the coronavirus forced an early end to the ski season, caused a broad business shutdown and sent unemployment in the Park City area soaring.
“The black swan has landed,” Kenworthy said, using a term that in economics refers to an unexpected, havoc-causing event like the coronavirus.
Kenworthy in June left office after a term as the president of the board of directors of the Historic Park City Alliance, a group that represents businesses in the Main Street core, affording him additional insight as one of the figures who helped craft the organization’s initial response to the spread of the illness in the spring.
The Historic Park City Alliance and City Hall have taken steps in an attempt to boost sales on Main Street, notably pedestrianizing the street on Sundays in hopes of creating an attractive atmosphere and providing space for social distancing, but the results have been mixed. Some businesses have reported solid numbers in the summer while others are down sharply. There are places that have remained closed or are keeping limited hours at a time when they normally would have fully reopened for the summer tourism season.
Kenworthy said sales at Flanagan’s on Main have dropped by 22% on a year-to-date basis compared to 2019. The year-to-date numbers, though, include a strong stretch from early January until the mid-March end of the ski season, meaning the period between then and late July has been especially difficult. He said other restaurants have experienced similar drops. Retailers are “really struggling,” Kenworthy said. He urged people to support businesses in Old Town and the rest of Park City, using the phrase “Live Park City, love Park City.”
“A lot of people are not coming out. A lot of people are still very scared,” he said.
He noted Main Street galleries, though, are an outlier and reportedly are posting solid numbers in the summer.
Kenworthy said the Paycheck Protection Program loans provided by Washington assisted initially as businesses on Main Street and elsewhere in Park City moved through the difficulties in late spring and early summer. Many businesses have since extinguished the funds and hope the loans are forgiven.
“The sugar high is over,” Kenworthy said as he talked about the loans distributed through the program, adding there are hard costs owners must account for amid a drop in sales. “Now, you have to run a business.”
It appeared it would be a difficult summer amid a series of cancellations of high-profile events that are some of the attractions of the warm-weather months. The major cancellations included the weekly Park Silly Sunday Market in the summer and early fall, the Tour of Utah bicycling race and the Park City Kimball Arts Festival. The Fourth of July celebration, with lots of the activity on Main Street, was scaled back significantly. Independence Day drew some of the biggest crowds of the summer, but Park City did not seem to swell with people like it would on a typical July 4.
Kenworthy said the China Bridge garage is not filling with vehicles, one of the measures that can help illustrate the size of the Main Street crowd, and several unidentified businesses chose not to open on the Fourth of July.
“You lose less money being closed,” he said, describing that there are “businesses that made that choice.”
Kenworthy also said he is aware some employees at Main Street businesses have chosen not to return to work as they receive added unemployment benefits.
“There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty,” he said. “And we have to live with that uncertainty into the unknown future.”
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Tourism revenue increased month over month this summer, the Park City Chamber/Bureau reported, but lodging numbers are still off 22% for December. Officials reported a recent uptick in bookings, though, pointing to a modicum of certainty after ski resorts announced their COVID-related opening policies.