CEDAR CITY — Following the announcement of the cancellation of the Utah Summer Games and Utah Shakespeare Festival as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses – from retail to hospitality to personal services – are scrambling to figure out how they will weather the impact of the anticipated drop in tourism.
Kris Benson, owner of Siren Barber & Beauty, told Cedar City News her business relies in walk-ins and foot traffic on Main Street from larger events. While she had the soft-open of her shop in March, she had been holding off until the summer for an official grand opening.
“I chose July 11 for my grand opening because of the foot traffic,” Benson said. “I thought, ‘Everybody’s going to be here – all the tourists, the new students coming into SUU – this is the time that they check out Cedar City.’ And I feel like those things closing down is going to affect a lot.”
The pandemic has also affected her ability to hire employees, especially graduates from Evan’s Hairstyling College, because their classes and graduation were postponed. This puts an extra strain on walk-in business.
“Where all those girls are graduating later now, that’s going to affect me having people in here to be able to take walk-ins,” she said.
Benson said besides the personal impact on her business, she feels the nature of her walk-in service helps attract customers to the other businesses located on Main Street.
Ty Vinney is the owner of one of these other businesses: Octopus Apothecary, a retail gift shop featuring local artisans.
Vinney told Cedar City News it is a concerning time for businesses.
“Business has slowed down. Some of our neighboring businesses have closed their doors, some are pondering closing their doors,” he said. “It is definitely a scary time to be a business owner.”
Vinney said business owners should work together to remain open.
“I would encourage people to start networking with one another. Talk to your fellow business people, figure out what you can do to help promote each other, get our community involved,” he said. “If we network that’s how we’re going to save our businesses.”
Owner of Groovacious Records Lisa Cretsinger told Cedar City News she expects to see an impact on her business as result of the cancellations.
“I have several specific customers that always come to Shakespeare every year, and they always make it a point to come in and shop here and visit,” Cretsinger said. “They’ve become friends over the years. I hope they come anyway, but there may not be a reason now. So it will affect me.”
Cretsinger said many businesses rely on tourism in Cedar City.
“It’s bound to be slower in town because of the tourist drop,” she said. “Our tourism is part of the reason why we are here. It does get slow in the winter, so we do rely on the tourism in Cedar, that’s always the way it’s been. Its a hard time for small businesses in general.”
Cedar City Councilman Scott Phillips said residents and business owners are experiencing something Cedar City has never seen before.
“Never in the 59-year history of the Shakespeare Festival has it ever canceled,” Phillips said. “I think those are staples that our community has come to rely on, particularly in this tourism season.”
Phillips said he expects the cancellations to have a large economic impact on the community, but also hopes to see some “thinking outside of the box” in order to help mitigate that impact.
“I’m hoping that maybe out of this maybe we’ll find some creativity, and we’ll find some new ways of thinking of how we get people who ordinarily would come for those types of events to rediscover Iron County and Southern Utah for different reasons,” he said.
Phillips echoed Benson’s concerns that the impact will be difficult for downtown businesses that rely on foot traffic and small mom-and-pop type businesses.
“More than anything we have to got to continue to promote and to encourage our 35,000 citizens here in Cedar City to shop local and to support the local businesses,” Phillips said. “The unique smaller mom and pop kinds of industries and businesses, whatever they might happen to be, are the things that distinguish us from any other community.”
In addition to business owners getting creative, Phillips said the city is working to promote recreational events.
“The mayor and the council have all been encouraging our city events director to think a little outside the box, find out what we can do, particularly with recreation, because we think that might be the safest and most logical way to approach this,” he said. “We have got to, as a community, work together.”
One of the most obviously impacted industries will be hospitality. Whereas local residents can do their part to support local businesses, area hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts need travelers to survive.
Best Western Town and Country Inn Director of Operations Jared Porter told Cedar City News that his hotel, and others in town, rely on the summer months to cover costs for the rest of the year.
“In our community, we make most of our revenue in the summertime, and then we squirrel it away during the winter to help carry us through the winter months, when a lot of time we don’t even cover our costs,” Porter said. “Most of the winter time it’s a break even or a slight loss, and a couple of months are a strong loss each year. Historically that’s how we’ve been able to run a hotel in Cedar.”
Porter said throughout the pandemic there have been concerns of having to close the hotel, and it is difficult to plan with so many unknowns.
“We had no idea what to budget for any of our expenses because we don’t know when this thing’s going to end and it just kept getting deeper and deeper and deeper as far as cancellations,” he said, adding that in addition to the changing landscape of state safety restrictions, business advertising and target markets are also moving.
“We don’t know who to target because we don’t know the extent of the damage to disposable income,” he said. “There’s too many variables.”
Porter said his business will need a minimum of a 20 percent increase in revenue in order to stay afloat.
“To this day, there’s not enough to sustain a hotel in this town,” he said. “We need an increase of 20 to 40 percent in sales and revenue for the average hotel, if they’re anything like mine, to break even and have any sort of sustainable budget, to have a sustainable business.”
Porter said he still hopes to be able recover from the current economic circumstances and rehire his employees in the future.
“I certainly am not unappreciative of anything that we have in our local community — we’re all in it together,” he said. “There’s a lot of support, and I just hope that we can pick back up and regain some of that in the next couple of years to come and be able to hire back all of our staff and continue to operate our business in this local community that’s been so good to us.”
Porter said the relationship is reciprocal, adding that hotels are in important source of income for the state.
“The amount of tax revenue that we collect and pass on to the state, in regards to not only sales tax but TRT (Transient Room Tax), it is staggering how many hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars are collected and passed to the state,” he said. “That’s revenue that the state doesn’t have – they’re not going to have that this year.”
The economic loss resulting from the cancellation of the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the Summer Games is estimated at $33 million.
Maria Twitchell, executive director of the Cedar City Brian Head Tourism Bureau, told Cedar City News that estimate is based on “an average spend of $140 per day per patron or participant or family member.”
Cedar City Economic Development Director Danny Stewart said the loss is very significant, adding that the estimated sales tax revenue generated from the 2019 Utah Summer Games alone was $728,000.
“We’re anticipating – and this is just an estimate – probably somewhere between a 40 and 50 percent drop in revenue to the city as a result of the loss of these two events,” Stewart said, and reiterated Porter’s comments about hospitality businesses relying on summer revenue to carry them through the year. “So this is a huge blow to our local economy.”
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