Sundance crowds are spending in Park City |

Sundance crowds are spending in Park City

The festival, returning after three years, brought crowds to Main Street

Kemo Sabe opened on Main Street in early December and is experiencing its first Sundance Film Festival. The store says the crowds purchased lots of cowboy hats as the festival returned in 2023 with the first in-person Sundance in three years. | Jay Hamburger/Park Record

Kemo Sabe, a Main Street store that sells Western wares, opened in early December, in time for the holiday crowds and, shortly afterward, the Sundance Film Festival.

The store, toward the southern end of the shopping, dining and entertainment strip, by Thursday was pleased with the sales numbers during the first Sundance it was open. Kelcey Proctor, the vice president, described Kemo Sabe sales as performing fairly well. The opening weekend was especially busy, she said.

The sales numbers during Sundance were on budget, Proctor said. The festival crowds bought lots of cowboy hats, which range in price from $350 to $995, selecting their favorites from a large wall covered with choices. Apparel also sold well.

“Lot of high end. I’m sure we had a couple celebrities,” she said.

Next year during Sundance, Proctor said, Kemo Sabe would consider hosting parties and live music while remaining open to the public.

Another business on Main Street, Woodbury Jewelers, indicated sales were outpacing numbers from some previous festivals. Sales during the opening weekend in 2023 compared to 2019 were up 1,000%. The numbers were also up, by 25%, from the opening weekend of 2018.

Sagan Woodbury, the owner of the jewelry store, said the Sundance crowds did not appear as large as they were during the pre-pandemic festivals, making room for other customers.

“I did talk to skiers who weren’t afraid to come to Main Street,” he said.

There were rumblings, though, that sales numbers for some businesses in a variety of sectors in the Main Street core did not approach those of festivals prior to the pandemic. Although the street was busy, especially in the opening days, there seemed to be a midweek lull that was even more pronounced than usual.

Economic numbers during the closing weekend of the festival usually do not match the opening.

Sundance has long been one of the most lucrative stretches of the year in Park City, only challenged by the holidays, but it was not clear prior to the opening whether the high-spending crowds would return. Moreover, while the lodging, restaurant and transportation industries typically enjoy especially large bumps in business during Sundance, the numbers for retailers can be spotty with the festival crowds so focused on screenings, dealmaking and parties rather than shopping.

The 2023 edition of the festival is the first to be held as an in-person event since 2020 after the live events were canceled for two consecutive years as a result of concerns about the pandemic. The level of spending this year was one of the key questions as the opening neared. It was not clear whether the crowds would return in the same numbers as before with there being continuing concern about the spread of the novel coronavirus. It was also not clear whether the spending would be in line with pre-pandemic festivals with worries about the economy so prevalent.

Details about the economic numbers are expected to be made public later in the year. Sundance itself normally funds a study that details the economic impact of the festival, highlighting spending figures by industry. City Hall, meanwhile, tracks monthly sales-tax numbers. The Sundance report and the sales-tax figures are not expected to be available for several months, though.

The Park City economy has enjoyed upside surprises since the early months of the pandemic. Skiers returned in large numbers while visitors in the summer and fall have also been drawn to the outside activities. The economic numbers during Sundance will add to what has already appeared to be a solid winter for business in Park City.

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