Park City summer sales offer some comfort as Main Street businesses await the winter
Main Street was still struggling in late June, the traditional start of the busiest stretch of the summer-tourism season in Park City, after the novel coronavirus forced an early end to the ski season and widespread business shutdowns in the spring.
There was little activity on the shopping, dining and entertainment strip, and some businesses remained closed by choice with sales on the street still slow. The leader of the Historic Park City Alliance, a group that represents businesses in the Main Street core, at about that time indicated there were approximately 10 businesses under threat of closing permanently based on the drop in sales on a year-over-year basis. Alison Kuhlow, the executive director of the organization, at the time called the future uncertain for the approximately 10 businesses, which represented a range of industries like restaurant and retail.
As Park City enters the fall shoulder season, a stretch when sales usually drop from the summer, Main Street is in a stronger position than it was entering the spring shoulder season, Kuhlow said in an interview. The summer was better than anticipated along Main Street, she said, explaining that there remains a danger to some businesses even as others appear to have shown resiliency during the warm-weather months.
The sales in the summer were crucial for the long-term viability of some of the businesses that had been seen as threatened earlier in the year. She said the numbers in July and August especially prepared them for the stretch between Labor Day and the scheduled start of the ski season, when business normally jumps.
“For some, I heard it’s been able to get them there, to feel comfortable making it to December,” Kuhlow said about sales in the summer, adding there is a desire for the ski season to be better than some project. “We’re all hopeful the winter season is going to surprise us.”
Kuhlow made the comments regarding the possibility of permanent closures on Main Street in June, at a point when the economic damage from the early end to the ski season was becoming clear. Unemployment numbers in the Park City area had soared, City Hall had released dire budgetary projections and it was unknown whether visitors would return so quickly.
In the three months since the June comments, Park City has enjoyed a striking comeback even amid the cancellations of a series of special events like the Park Silly Sunday Market, the Park City Kimball Arts Festival and the Tour of Utah bicycling race. City Hall, in a move designed to draw people to Main Street, launched weekly pedestrian days on the street in the summer and fall that have proven to be popular. The community has appeared especially busy on the weekends, with Main Street looking jammed on many evenings. The unemployment numbers dropped sharply even as they remain elevated, and the municipal financials likely have at least stabilized even though projections have been downgraded.
According to Kuhlow, though, the Main Street sales numbers remained depressed during the period between March and the end of July on a year-over-year basis. A survey that garnered 34 responses by Thursday from businesses in the Main Street core showed sales off by an average of 36% during the March-to-July period compared to the same period in the previous year.
The research shows numerous sectors suffered between March and the end of July. Certain categories, though, posted solid sales, she said, pointing to galleries and home furnishings. The strength in galleries and home furnishing stores closely tracked a real estate surge.
Kuhlow in June declined to identify the approximately 10 businesses that were under threat of permanent closure. She continued to guard the list this week but acknowledged the Main Street Deli was one of the businesses that had been under threat in late June. The deli has since permanently closed after what was initially planned to be a temporary shutdown in the spring amid the spread of the sickness.
She said this week there remains concern even after a solid summer. There are unidentified businesses that could still be forced to close in the coming months, she said.
“Definitely still threatened, for sure,” Kuhlow said, adding, “There’s no certainty for winter.”
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