Silly Market: good for your business? |

Silly Market: good for your business?

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

There have been upwards of 5,000 people at the Park Silly Sunday Market each week this year, browsing the arts and crafts that are for sale, eating at the food stands and listening to the concerts.

But City Hall officials, the market organizers and Main Street leaders want to learn how much the Silly Market, in its third year on lower Main Street, brings to the local economy now that it has been established as a popular place to go on Sundays.

The Park City Council recently agreed to fund a study of the Silly Market’s effects on Main Street business, selecting a consulting firm known as Economic & Planning Systems for the work. City Hall expects the study will cost approximately $30,000 and be completed two months after the Sept. 27 Silly Market, the last one scheduled this year.

It will be the first formal analysis of the Silly Market conducted on behalf of City Hall. There have been ongoing complaints from some businesses on the upper stretch of Main Street that the Silly Market has funneled customers to the lower part of the street. Business on Sundays, some have said, has dipped sharply since the Silly Market started.

Jonathan Weidenhamer, who directs City Hall’s economic-development efforts and drafted a report recommending the City Council approve the deal for the study, said he anticipates the firm will provide information about the Silly Market’s effects on sales taxes as well as its indirect benefits like drawing Parkites to Main Street and generating publicity for Park City.

He said the consultant could make suggestions about the operations of the Silly Market, such as its hours, the mix of vendors and, possibly, expanding portions of the market to upper Main Street. The organizers have previously instituted some changes, including a switch in the hours, to soothe relations with Main Street.

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The study will precede what could be an important round of talks between City Hall and the Silly Market organizers, with Weidenhamer saying there is a possibility the two sides will negotiate a long-term deal to hold the event at the Main Street location. Officials want to better understand the effects on the economy before entering into an agreement with the not-for-profit Silly Market, he said.

Economic & Planning Systems, with offices in Colorado and California, or a companion firm involved in the deal, have conducted similar studies in Anchorage, Alaska, and the Colorado mountain resorts of Vail, Breckenridge and Telluride.

The Silly Market is backing City Hall’s decision to conduct the study, saying that the firm’s report will provide better insight into the effects on the rest of the street that what is now available.

Kimberly Kuehn, the executive director of the Silly Market and one of its creators, said the research will be a "really good gauge" for her side as the talks with City Hall continue.

"I think it’s going to answer a lot of questions that the city has, that (the) Park City Silly Sunday Market organization has, the Main Street merchants (have)," Kuehn said.

She said the Silly Market has successfully drawn crowds to Main Street, but it is unclear how much money they are spending at businesses on the street. Kuehn said she wants to learn "where the buck is going."

The attendance is up from 2008 and is better this year than her original forecasts for the Silly Market’s third year. The Silly Market has "hit a niche in the Utah market," Kuehn said, adding that the crowds include many people from outside the Park City area.

The weekly markets feature local and regional artisans, food vendors and entertainers. The organizers also provide space for not-for-profit organizations to distribute materials.

The Historic Main Street Business Alliance, a merchants group, has closely monitored the talks between the Silly Market and City Hall, and the alliance has been especially worried about Sunday sales on Main Street.

Jeff Ward, the president of the alliance, said his group has long wanted a study conducted of the Silly Market, which he describes as a "significant event in the district." He said Saturdays and Sundays are important business days on Main Street, and there are extra worries since the Silly Market is held on Sundays.

Ward wants the consultant to detail sales trends on Sundays since the Silly Market opened, including a look at how different sorts of businesses have fared and if the location of a business has influenced sales. Anecdotal reports he has gathered have been mixed, he said.

"I’ve heard different things from different merchants at different times," Ward said.