How Two Park City Main Street Businesses Plan To Move Forward During COVID-19 Outbreak
Summit County’s order to close businesses where large groups of people gather, including restaurants, theaters and gyms, is supposed to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Escape Room Park City owner Shirin Spangenberg says March is usually her busiest month, with large families, bachelorette parties and locals patronizing the business. But what worries Spangenberg is what lies ahead for the rest of the month and onward.
“You know that we’re going into April and May, which is slow, and part of June is going to be slow," Spangenberg said. "You know that, so you save up all this money so you can weather it through those months. Now, when you’re down by 50% in March, it’s a pretty big hit.”
Linda Dugins from Dugins West retail shop agrees. She says the past weekend was incredibly busy – the resorts had closed, and tourists were looking for something to do. Many of Dugins’ employees are seasonal workers and are used to seasonal hours, but this moment feels different.
“Frankly, today feels more like April 17 than March 17,” Dugins said. “It’s just very scary and painful to think that we’re reducing staff and hours at this time of the year.”
Dugins and Spangenberg are part of the Historic Park City Alliance, an advocacy organization for Main Street, Swede Alley and Park Avenue merchants. HPCA Executive Director Alison Kuhlow says downtown businesses are in a tricky situation, where they can’t encourage crowds because of the health risk but also need to consider the future of their businesses and employees.
“How do you encourage people to patronize those businesses that are still open?” Kuhlow said. “It’s quite hard.”
For bars and restaurants, the choice is more black and white. They either modify their operations to do curbside or takeout service or close. About a dozen restaurants on Main Street have switched to to-go service.
Dugins’ retail store is still open, and she says employees are taking precautions to sanitize after every transaction. But under the public health order, Spangenberg must close Escape Room Park City – it’s an entertainment venue. So, she’s taking a creative approach to modifying her business operations.
“I’m calling it a 'social distancing adventure,'” Spangenberg said. “Where you can be in a car, and we drop off materials, and it’s kind of like a little adventure race where you go and you can play a game and then move onto the next one, and move onto the next one, and move onto the next one," Spangenberg said. "So, you don’t have to be in an enclosed space, and everything would be completely sanitized, and I think it would be a lot of fun.”
At this point, Dugins says a lot of unanswered questions remain. What will drive visitors to Main Street if the bars and restaurants are closed? How long will the outbreak impact Main Street business owners, who have high rents to pay and employees to support? After 35 years of business, Dugins can’t recall ever closing her shop for an extended period. But right now, she says the wellbeing of the community takes priority over profits.
“The community safety is first, and keeping not just our employees but all the other people in Park City who are being faced with loss of revenue and giving them a sense of hope and some solutions and some answers,” Dugins said. “I think that’s more important to us as business owners than the daily cash register sales.”
On Tuesday night, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert ordered restaurants and bars statewide to suspend dine-in service for two weeks, to slow the spread of COVID-19. Like Summit County’s action, the order allows food establishments to operate curbside and takeout service.