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With No In-Person Sundance, Local Restaurants and Bars Could Take a 50% Hit This Month


With an in-person Sundance Film Festival absent from Park City due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, local businesses are bracing for a January that could see some sectors take a 50% hit in sales compared to a pre-COVID year.


January is usually all about Sundance in Park City. The movies, the celebrities, and the crowds. Unfortunately, there won’t be any of that this year thanks to COVID-19.


The Sundance Institute had planned a scaled-back and semi-virtual festival, only to cancel in-person film screenings at Park City’s Ray Theater late last year due to COVID-19 health and safety reasons.


With no in-person element to the festival in Park City this year, local businesses are looking at up to a 50% loss in revenue this month. That’s according to Historic Park City Alliance Executive Director Alison Kuhlow.


“So it is going to be a loss for us this year,” Kuhlow says. “It’s something that many of the businesses think they can sustain and make it through for this year, but it’s definitely going to be kind of a hard run and not adding to the ease of this winter. We had originally anticipated seeing businesses down about 40% this winter. I think January, probably 50% or more just with no Sundance this year.” 


Kuhlow says the brunt of the slump will likely be seen by local restaurants and bars. Park City is usually teeming with people during the festival, but COVID restrictions on capacity combined with lower numbers of visitors in town mean not much can be done to fill seats.


“So far in January, many of them were below where they were last year, but they feel like they are doing the best they can with the reduction in capacity at restaurants and bars," says Kuhlow. “There’s just so many people you can seat, and so there’s no way to do the math to be able to make up for kind of that loss of 50% of your customers every night.” 


Although not immune to the effects of no film festival, retail businesses might make out a little better than the service industry. 

Many downtown retail spaces are rented out for events during the festival. Although business owners are losing out on the rental income, they will have the opportunity to sell during a time they normally do not.


However, Kuhlow says there are no current plans to attempt to replace Sundance in town. Instead, the business community is banking on increased skier visits and visitors from within driving distance to carry them through the winter.


“At this point, I haven’t heard of anyone doing something in kind of a replacement of Sundance,” she says. “Our hope is that the skier traffic and visitor traffic is increased this year during these weeks, hopefully to make up for that lost revenue.”


The Historic Park City Alliance is also conducting a survey of local businesses this week to gauge interest in continuing 2020’s successful car-free Sundays this year as well. The weekly day of no traffic on Main Street allowed shops, bars, and restaurants to move out into the street, increasing seating capacities and helping businesses hang on until life returns to normal.


The 2021 virtual Sundance Film Festival begins on January 28th and will run until February 3rd.