Park City jeweler retains some luster amid widespread Main Street closures
Ken Whipple has owned Park City Jewelers since 1993, in the early years of the community’s boom decade. The jewelry shop moved to its current location on the 400 block of Main Street in 1997, toward the middle of the street, giving Whipple a commanding view of the shopping, dining and entertainment strip through an extraordinary two-plus decades that were marked by the 2002 Winter Olympics, the post-Games growth, the recession and the sharp increase in tourism after the downturn.
But the spread of the novel coronavirus and the steep decline in business in Park City in recent weeks have been difficult on Main Street. Many shops are closed, and the restaurants that are open are only allowed to serve takeout orders on the curb. Main Street at many points over the past week has been deserted in the evening and has had only sparse crowds in the daytime with Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort closed.
Whipple, though, has determined to keep the store open even as so many businesses around him are closed. Park City Jewelers is one of a small number of shops, boutiques or galleries that were open in recent days along Main Street. Business in any other year would have been brisk through at least April 1 or later, depending on the date of Easter, he said. Sales have instead collapsed. He said sales and the number of people browsing through the store have dropped to perhaps 5% of a typical March.
“It looks just like 9/11. As soon as 9/11 happened, it just died,” he said about sales after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. “No traffic. People are a little afraid to spend since the stock market’s going crazy.”
Whipple said five employees were laid off in recent days as sales dropped. He said he still is worried about the remaining staffers, describing concern they could lose their housing if they are laid off as well.
The experience of Park City Jewelers is likely similar to numerous other businesses across Park City that heavily rely on the sales during the ski season to meet the annual budget. The closures of PCMR and Deer Valley in mid-March to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus essentially shuttered the tourism industry, with the impacts stretching through lodges, restaurants and the numerous small businesses like Park City Jewelers that rely on the skiers and snowboarders.
Tourism officials have said the timing of the closures of the mountain resorts so late in the season reduces the losses. There were just several weeks left in the ski season when the closures occurred, although March is usually a lucrative month with large spring-break crowds. The Park City Chamber/Bureau has estimated that perhaps 90% of the expected ski-season business had already been conducted by the time of the closures. The Chamber/Bureau, though, has also calculated projections showing a steep drop in spending by visitors and lodging occupancy by the end of April. The Chamber/Bureau projection estimates season-end spending by visitors through the end of April will drop by 16.7% compared to the previous ski season. Occupancy is project to drop similarly.
City Hall and others are preparing plans to address the drop in business, but the details of any new programs, policies or assistance measures are not yet known. The Historic Park City Alliance, a group that represents the interests of businesses on Main Street or just off the street, is expected to be heavily involved in the discussions, alongside the municipal government and groups that represent individual industries.
Park City Jewelers is adjusting to the drop in tourism and sales along Main Street, indicating it will take steps to accommodate shoppers. Whipple said the jewelry store will deliver to customers’ houses, or meet them on the sidewalk outside the store. He also said the store is cleaning the glass cases after customers look at the jewelry, putting jewelry dropped off to be repaired into baggies and cleaning credit cards before they are processed. Whipple said the store will “stay open as long as we can.” The Park City Jewelers manufacturing operation, located in the same building, is continuing, providing a cushion of sorts as sales in the shop tumble.
“I support 12 families with this store,” he said about the employees. “They’ve got rent. They’ve got food. They’ve got car payments.”
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The Park City lodging industry in recent weeks experienced an uptick in projected occupancy numbers during the dates of the Sundance Film Festival, but the figures remain depressed from a typical year during the largest special event on the city’s calendar.