As ski industry shifts, Park City must work harder to maintain unique identity
It is going to be an ongoing battle and we aren’t talking about addressing climate change or overcoming partisan politics. Park City’s toughest challenge in the next few years will likely be assuming the reputation as home to "biggest ski area in the country" while also maintaining its unique small-town character.
It is not an entirely new issue. Park City has long tried to resist succumbing to the anonymity of national franchises, garish signage and suburban sprawl. At one point the city went to war with a well-known pizza chain over what some municipalities would have considered a trifling issue: the shade of red on the establishment’s roof. There was a similarly bitter battle at the county level over a familiar pair of golden arches (too tall, too bright) and then there was the incident when a local activist chained himself to a bulldozer in hopes of blocking construction of the Basin’s first big box retailer.
If you remember any of those identity crises you know that Park City has changed irrevocably mostly for the better. But it is also likely that a part of you pines for those simpler, smaller more intimate times.
This week we learned the new owner at Park City Mountain Resort had booted a locally owned coffee company in favor of the global brand Starbucks. We heaved another sigh of regret. Vail Resorts explained the move was necessary due to a company-wide partnership with the coffee giant, one of several corporate agreements with specific brands known for their soda, beer, snack bars, ski helmets, goggles, socks, etc.
It makes sense economies of scale, marketing partnerships, and so on. We understand. But for those who want to ensure that our mountain town has its own flavor, one cup of coffee for all is a real concern.
Vail’s pitch to the community has been that it values the town’s authenticity. "We get it," they say. And perhaps they do. To its credit, Vail has already invested over half a million dollars in local nonprofit organizations and is poised to announce another round of grants. But, as a multi-resort, publically traded company it also has to balance a bigger spread sheet.
So, if Parkites are truly committed to protecting their home town’s local identity, and if that signature includes small businesses like organically grown coffee, artisan cheeses, original bread recipes, hand-built skis and indigenous artists, it will be up to local citizens to actively support them.
With all due respect to Starbucks and Vail, this upcoming holiday season, we plan to seek out one-of-a-kind products that can’t be found anywhere else, including a cup of shade-grown, fair-trade coffee from a locally owned business.