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Car-Free Sundays provide fun for visitors and a mixed bag for businesses

Park Silly Sunday Market
Park Silly Market
Park Silly Sunday Market

Merchants hope activities on upper Main Street will attract customers and their money during the rest of the summer’s Car-Free Sundays.

Historic Park City Alliance (HPCA) and Park City Municipal continue experimenting with new ways to attract people to historic Main Street. Car-Free Sundays debuted last summer as businesses reacted to COVID-19-related slowdowns in foot traffic on upper Main. This summer, Car-Free Sundays mirrors the Park Silly Market dates through September 25. However, both events will be on hiatus for the first three Sundays of August.

Shirin Spangenberg is the owner and operator of The Escape Room. She said merchants voted to bring back Car-Free Sundays this summer even though businesses on the upper end of the street weren’t seeing the kind of foot traffic merchants enjoyed on lower Main Street.

"When City Council was looking at having car-free Sunday again," Spangenberg said, “one of the requirements was to activate the top of Main because what was happening last year when Silly Sunday and Car-Free were going together was that people would stop at the farmers market and then they would just make a left and go straight to their cars. They wouldn't go to the upper part of Main Street."

Spangenberg said the HPCA has installed tables with umbrellas and offers games, puzzles, and cornhole to draw people further up the street. To increase traffic, merchants are handing out gift certificates to entice restaurant dining.

"Car-free has been very successful. There are lots of people that go to the top of the street.” Spangenberg said. “People are enjoying the entire street. It's a blast. It's so much fun, but the one thing that I did hear from merchants was that they weren't really getting people in the door."

Spangenberg thinks there are more visitors than locals attending the Car-Free day activities.

"The evening, when it's warm out, you can sit at the Cabin and have dinner. It is so much fun. It is just beautiful,” Spangenberg said. She added, "It's just such a blast up there, and people are in such a good mood. They're having a great time. It just feels like kind of old Park City to me."    

Wasatch Brewery is at the top of Main Street. Marketing Director Rick Seven said people parking remotely and taking a shuttle into town won't walk uphill on Main Street after being dropped off at the bottom.

"There needs to be some better accessibility of public transport up to the top part of Main, a stop up there or a bus drop-off and pick-up, up there. I love the idea of a car-free Main Street.” Seven said he loves the idea of restaurants being able to have decks. "I would just like to have parking off Main Street a little more affordable for people who do want to drive up there, and for public transport to be more friendly to the top of Main.”

Parking off-site is available at Park City High School and Deer Valley. The China Bridge garage parking fills up early on Sundays despite the $7.00 per hour charge. HPCA Executive Director Ginger Wicks said there are alternatives.

"It's tough, and so I would say to those locals that you can ride your bike or hop on the free transit system to come up and enjoy Main Street. Even though the $2 increase might be challenging for some folks sitting in traffic to get to the venue might also be frustrating when the gas prices are so high."

Wicks said she isn't sure they will continue Car-Free Sunday next year.

"The Executive Committee is exploring different revenue streams that the HPCA could reap the benefits from," Wicks said. "But it is a huge chunk of money that the HPCA will have to come up with. And, of course, we'll need the support of the merchants if we are able to find those revenue streams to make sure that that's where they want those funds allocated. So, there's a lot of due diligence and homework that the HPCA needs to do to see if Car Free continues.

The Kimball Arts Festival is held on Main Street on August 5, 6, and 7. The Silly Market and Car-Free Sundays will resume from August 29 through September 25.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.