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PARK CITY — When three sisters were looking for a way to spend their Saturday, they got some parental permission and hopped on a bus, heading downtown in a search for celebrities.
“If you see a mob of people screaming, just follow them,” said Ivy Malman, sharing her secrets for success.
She and her accomplices will settle for nothing less than absolute victory. Her sister Sidney Hatcher was keeping a sharp eye out for Taylor Swift while her other sister Ruby Hatcher was on a quest to track down Will Smith or Oprah.
As for Ivy, she had a hard time even keeping track of who she wants to find.
“We watched ‘Aladdin’ last night, and I really liked Will Ferrell as the genie,” she said. “That was pretty cool.”
“Will Smith was in it, not Will Ferrell,” Ruby said, correcting her sister with a laugh.
But while the public may be on the chase for a coveted selfie, businesses were craving customers. Inside Java Cow, a coffee and ice cream shop on Main Street, the cups weren’t churning quite as quickly as last year.
“This is normal, but it’s normally like this all day long,” said manager Rebecca Williams, who’s been running the place for the past five years. “We’re busy, but not as busy it should be.”
Down the street at Dolly’s Books, the sweets weren’t selling like they used to.
“A lot slower than last year,” said Luke Fairman, the General Manager of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, which is attached to the bookstore. “Last year was probably double what we’ll do today. I don’t know exactly why, but it’s definitely slower. A lot less people.”
To the untrained eye, the sidewalks may have looked like a swarm — but Fairman and Williams agreed that something was different.
“Right now I’d say it’s like a ghost town compared to how it usually is,” Fairman said, gesturing out the front window of his shop. “Usually, it’d be packed.”
While tracking the exact attendance numbers at the Sundance Film Festival can be a challenge, Salt Lake City-based Y2 Analytics uses data provided by another company that anonymously tracks the number of cell phones that move through the area. They estimated a slight dip in attendance last year, following huge gains in previous years — their report showed around 122,000 people attended some part of the festival in 2019, down from about 125,000 in 2018.
Although the experiences of a couple of businesses on Main Street aren’t exactly scientific, Fairman and Williams both think locals may be scared off by the traffic situation, which they said can be more than a little daunting.
“They’re charging crazy, crazy amounts for China Bridge,” Williams said, referring to a nearby parking garage. “Parking is a little more limited than it used to be.”
“Yesterday, there was like an hour and a half wait to get into Swede Alley,” Fairman said. “So I think some people are just giving up. Most people park at the high school and then just bus over, which is usually pretty quick, but last night it took me almost two hours to pick up some stuff from here.”
Williams also believed what’s traditionally been the main attraction of Sundance — the films — may be undergoing a bit of a shift.
“You hear everybody talking about how they can see some of these films the next month on HBO or on Netflix,” she said. “So it’s not as much of an adventure as it used to be.”
“Netflix, Hulu, see them all in a couple of months anyway,” Fairman said. “It’s gotten a lot more expensive, too.”
You might believe lower foot traffic might make businesses bitter, but shop owners said, on the whole, Park City is booming.
“We have so many events during the summer up here,” Williams said. “Every single weekend, there’s something going on.”
“Every year just gets blown out of the water,” Fairman said. “You think you can’t go any bigger, and then it just crushes it. During Christmas, we’ve never seen anything like it.”
This Saturday may have been a bit slower, but according to Fairman and Williams, businesses don’t completely rely on Sundance to keep their doors open. They’re both happy with the number of customers they see and said business is consistent. Change is something they expect one way or another — and Fairman said Sundance itself is no exception.
“Before it was mostly about the films, now it’s more about people trying to see people,” he said with a smile.
As long as celebrities walk among us, some people like Ivy Malman and her sisters will always be on the hunt, regardless of who played the part of “The Genie.”
“We do this every year,” she said, before clarifying that it was, in fact, Will Smith she’s on the lookout for.
She plans to keep searching, trying to prove that where there’s a will, there’s a way.