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Early Economic Numbers Show Big Sundance Hit, but Point Towards Spring Recovery

photo looking up Park City's Main Street. businesses on either side with cars moving down a two lane road

Data compiled by the Park City Chamber/Bureau and the Historic Park City Alliance indicated a sharp decline in economic activity to start 2021, particularly for restaurants and lodging.


Although official January sales tax numbers from the Utah State Tax Commission won’t become public until later this month, 37 businesses participated in a sampling by the local business organizations and showed significant hits taken across all sectors in January and February.


Restaurants and lodging bore the brunt of the damage, according to the data, with restaurants down an average of 31% in January and lodging down 54% over the same time period.


After outperforming expectations in the fall, Park City Chamber/Bureau CEO Jennifer Wesselhof told KPCW the sluggish start to the ski season in November and December carried over into the new year, thanks in part to little snow to attract overnight visitors and increasing COVID-19 case counts.


She said the big hit due to no in-person Sundance Film Festival was expected, but lodging did begin to bounce back some in February with strong snowstorms causing an increased number of visitors and last-minute bookings.


“You know, we expected that, mostly because of the loss of Sundance, of such a big hit for us, but also the impacts of the pandemic,” said Wesselhoff. “We did see some strong backfill in February, but still significantly down compared to what Sundance brings for our community in so many ways.”


Wesselhoff added that February and March are looking to be in the ballpark of 35% occupancy, which is only 10% off the non-pandemic average of roughly 45% occupancy towards the end of the ski season.


When it comes to restaurants and retail, the numbers are not always as straightforward, said HPCA Executive Director Alison Kuhlow.


She said what complicates things is how not every business is the same. Some bars, restaurants, and shops did fine, others struggled.


“You know, different categories, different types of businesses have been impacted so to say that all restaurants are doing well is not necessarily the case or all galleries,” said Kuhlow. “It really is not necessarily across the entire board.”


According to the data, bars saw the sharpest decline in January, down 75% month-over-month.


Wesselhoff added that despite the rough start to 2021, there are indications the spring could bounce back and outperform expectations once again as COVID-19 vaccinations continue statewide and more people are willing to get out of the house and travel.


Restaurants rebounded to be down 4% on average in February.


“We’re seeing the late season really performing much better than we had planned,” Wesselhoff said. “Much better than December and January.”


Official state sales tax numbers are released on a two-month delay. January is expected later this month and February sometime in April.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.