Sundance Film Festival concluded over the weekend. The annual showcase of films throughout Park City is traditionally a boon to the local economy. Businesses on Park City’s Main Street are announcing the 2020 festival did not have as large of economic impact as hoped for.
Kathy O’Brien is the owner of Changing Hands, a consignment shop located on Park City’s Main Street. O’Brien said the economic impact of the Sundance Film Festival might have been lesser this year.
“I’ve been here in this little spot for 25 years,” O’Brien said. “I know what my number should be, and it was off. I didn't get the traffic. Sometimes I could look out here and it would just be nothing on Swede Alley when normally it's buses and people and cars in my parking lot. That didn't happen this year. The first weekend was OK, didn't make my numbers, next week was like off.”
Katie Babcock is a co-owner of the Main Street Deli. Although this is only her second full year of the Sundance festival, Babcock says they also saw a slowdown.
“This year was definitely slower than last year, which is what we've heard from everybody on the street,” Babcock continued. “Some people attribute it to the weather or the prices in Park City. Some people attributed it to the fact that the Grammys happened sometime in the middle of the weekend, so they said that a lot of people from LA didn't come out. We were busy because we're small, so we fill up pretty quickly. Business was good, but it was deadly not as crazy as last year was.”
Despite early anecdotal reports of less economic impact during the festival, Park City Chamber CEO Bill Malone says that pre-festival projections of hotel lodging were similar to last year.
“Our occupancy percentages for the 10 days of Sundance were up five days and down five days but none of those days were significantly off of last year,” Malone explained. “So up a percent or two on the days up and down a percent or two on the days down. So, nothing that we saw in terms of the occupancy would reflect that the numbers of people in town during Sundance would be vastly different from the previous year.”
So how do businesses reconcile less sales with similar visitation numbers? Executive Director of the Historic Park City Alliance Alison Kuhlow says first they need to have a look at the bigger picture.
“At this point we are seeing it down,” Kuhlow said. “We're seeing it down from last year, but I have heard that 2019 was a record-breaking year. So, can we always sustain that, or are we looking at significantly less numbers? I think we're waiting to understand.”
Kuhlow says that businesses are maybe seeing a shift in festival going demographics.
“Does economic impact equal numbers or is it about the people who spend,” Kuhlow continued. “Watching the Sundance demographics, I've had some comments from business owners that it didn't seem so Hollywoody and no paparazzi and they felt that that was nice. So maybe we're maturing a bit maybe we're looking at a different type of crowd than what we're used to.”
Kuhlow says they’re also watching how the festival evolves and what that will mean for Main Street businesses.
“Is it still those 10 days of impacts, or do we start to see the street open up more as of that Monday coming after the first weekend,” Kuhlow explained. “I mean if we could put some parking on the street, I think that adds a little bit of liveliness and again we get more people walking in front of storefronts. Understanding that Main Street isn't overrun during the second week, it's really quite pleasant.
Kuhlow hopes to solicit input from Main Street business owners as they continue a robust dialogue and consider all factors that could be impacting sales during Sundance.