Sundance wants more biz | ParkRecord.com

Sundance wants more biz

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Steps down Main Street from Otto Parts, a souvenir store that sells the typical fare, shoppers have another option, even if it is temporary, to buy something to remind them of their trip to the Sundance Film Festival.

Ashleigh Aleman, a manager at Otto Parts, isn’t too bothered by the increased competition, operated by the film festival’s organizers.

"It’s crazy, crazy crowded," Aleman says. "I think it will be OK."

Sundance, for the first time, during the 2007 film festival has opened a souvenir shop on Main Street, renting highly visible space from the Park City Historical Society on the 500 block of Main Street, midway up the street.

The festival organizers traditionally sold their wares — posters, T-shirts, sweatshirts and assorted other souvenirs — at the Gateway Center in Old Town, where the crowded Sundance box office resides. But the organizers, seeing the potential of selling to the hoards who visit Main Street — both those going to films and people in the city to be part of the Sundance scene — wanted a better spot to market the merchandise.

The organizers negotiated a deal with the historical society to open the temporary store. Terms of the agreement were not made public but City Hall, which owns the space and leases it to the museum, had to approve the deal. The Park City Council did so without controversy.

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The museum says the rental fees from Sundance will assist the fundraising efforts for what is planned as a major expansion.

Jill Miller, the managing director of the Sundance Institute, who is the Park City-based official who makes key decisions about the festival’s operations, says the Main Street outlet is the latest effort by Sundance to push up sales.

The wares are also offered at the Sundance box office at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City, at Salt Lake International and over the Internet. Sundance, though, does not sell the goods to other retailers. That means the store, marked with a banner on a light pole outside, has almost a monopoly on Sundance goods on Main Street.

The rest of the shops continue to sell their regular goods – heavy on the local resorts and more generic skiing and snowboarding souvenirs.

"It’s convenience and customer service for our guests," Miller says.

Miller acknowledges that the retail sales represent "an important part of our revenue" but she does not provide details. She says T-shirts and hats sell especially well.

"With X amount of people in town, we’re only going to sell so much product," she says, explaining why Sundance does not wholesale its goods to other retailers on Main Street, adding, "We have a limited number of people who come to the festival each year. It’s not the Olympics."

She says Sundance does not need more merchandise outlets and she is unsure if merchants on Main Street have approached Sundance before with requests to sell the festival goods.

Dave Schaffner expects that Sundance will compete with his Flat Rabbet Gallery on Main Street, which stocks a big selection of skiing and pop-culture posters, including Sundance posters from past festivals and some made for 2007.

He was worried Sundance on Main Street would sell posters from before. They are not, but he remains concerned that the festival-goers might pass on his gallery in favor of Sundance’s Main Street shop.

"In the past, it worked because Sundance didn’t have a presence on Main Street," Schaffner says, indicating he bought a few 2007 posters to sell but he would have purchased more without the new competition.

The festival, seen as America’s top marketplace for independent films, opened on Thursday and is scheduled to wrap on Jan. 28. Main Street is especially busy during the festival and restaurants and nightclubs are hopping.

Even with the crowds, retailers, though, usually report mixed sales during Sundance. Some opt to rent their space to corporate interests, choosing guaranteed rental fees over what they might make from sales during the festival.

Michelle Heumann, the manager at Rocky Mountain Shirt Co., a souvenir shop in the Galleria on Main Street, down the street from the Sundance space, says sales at the store usually dip during the festival. The festival-goers are not interested in regular Park City souvenirs, she says.

If Sundance had offered the festival goods to other stores for wholesale prices, sales might have gone up, Heumann says, and she expects that she will be asked where the Sundance store is located.

"They don’t even care about the Park City stuff, unfortunately," she says, adding, "They’re not here for the mountains, they’re here for the films. Our shirts say nothing about films."