The Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre Tuesday, September 11, 2018. (Photo: James M. Dobson / The Spectrum & Daily News)
On May 12th, one email changed the complexion of the entire summer for Nan Johnson.
As the owner of The Anniversary House bed and breakfast, since the Utah Shakespeare Festival announced it would not be hosting its 2020 season, Johnson has spent a lot of time canceling plans made by would-be visitors.
“When they sent out the email saying they were canceling the season, that’s when the phone started ringing,” Johnson said.
The month of May brought Utah from a “red” risk level, to “orange” and finally to “yellow” under the state’s phase-by-phase plan to reopen after initiating widespread closures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
However, even those moves couldn’t save two of Cedar City’s biggest events.
Both the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the Utah Summer Games were officially canceled in the past two weeks, with organizers citing the inability to properly follow social distancing guidelines and other regulations due to the high volume of expected crowds.
Behind cancelations aren’t just unplayed games and unseen characters. With these two canceled events, Cedar City is also missing out on millions of dollars in tourism revenue and city leaders are left facing major dropoffs in economic activity.
“It’s been the worst blow I’ve ever experienced in all of my time being at the tourism bureau, and I’ve been here 25 years,” Executive Director of the Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism Bureau Maria Twitchell said. “I was here during 9/11; I was here during the great recession; this is definitely worse by all means.”
“It’s going to be a rough summer.”
The Shakespeare Festival and Summer Games both represented enormous opportunities for Cedar City, as well as the tourism office.
Twitchell said that travelers coming through Cedar City in 2018 spent more than $176 million. The numbers for 2019 won’t be available until about July, but they’re expected to be similar.
Without these two major events in 2020, Twichell said she’s anticipating a drop in nearly half of the revenue she usually sees. This loss, she said, will be in the millions.
“I’m anticipating about a 45% drop in revenue,” Twitchell said. “We’re going to be looking at a lot of things.”
Employee furloughs and less advertising spending are on the table right now for Twitchell and the tourism office. However, she still has a few more cards to play with help from others outside of Cedar City.
“I’m going after grants quickly as I can to see if we can leverage the money that we do have coming in to make it go further,” Twitchell said. “We’re looking at creative partnerships.”
Economic Development Director Danny Stewart, who’s seen the impact of the festival and Summer Games having grown up in Cedar City, attended Southern Utah University and worked in southern Utah after graduating, noted how important the festival and games are beyond just the financial aspect.
“It’s all part of the lifestyle and the appeal of Cedar City,” Stewart said. “It’s something that adds to the type of community that we have.”
In economic development, Stewart focuses more on industrial manufacturing. The businesses he works worth don’t rely much on the foot traffic from the festival and games, however, he makes sure these businesses still understand the gravity the festival and games carry.
The 57th annual Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City opens June 28, 2018, and runs through Oct. 13, 2018. (Photo: Utah Shakespeare Festival)
Not every business in Cedar City is getting devastated by the pandemic. Stewart noted there are businesses that are taking advantage of the “demand” side of “supply and “demand.”
“Some of our manufacturers are doing very well because the products that they produce are in high demand right now,” Stewart said. “They’re staying very busy. So, I’ve really changed my focus back to these small businesses and how can I help my other partners.”
Of the businesses in Cedar City, there’s a good split of those which are owned by corporate business, like Smith’s with Kroger or Wal-Mart, and businesses which are the classic “Mom and Pop” stores or restaurants that locals remember over the years.
Of these independent businesses, those who are affected the most are those who rely the most on the aforementioned foot traffic.
Those affected most
The city itself will miss out on a majority of its potential travel-related revenue, but the specific places where those travelers spent that money find themselves facing a major challenge.
The Anniversary House, a bed and breakfast that sees most of its revenue during the summer months, has seen over 150 of previously booked either canceled or reduced this past week.
Johnson said most of the revenue for the bed and breakfasts around Cedar City comes during the 14 weeks of the Shakespeare Festival. When asked if there was any way the bed and breakfast business in Cedar City could come out on the other side of the pandemic unscathed, Johnson replied with a blunt “no.”
“The business is going to be cut by probably 85 percent for the year,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a tough year.”
There are still some who are staying at The Anniversary House to tour the national parks and see other sights, but Johnson said that’s only one or two persons for one or two nights.
And, for those who do stay, Johnson has to adhere to different guidelines for hotels and restaurants.
“You do all the precautions of the disinfecting and everything hourly,” Johnson said. “Whenever there’s anybody in the house, I have hand sanitizer, disinfectants in the rooms for the guests to use; there’s Clorox wipes and things if they want to use them.”
Johnson considers herself lucky, however. She retired from being a nurse in August 2019, and retirement covers her bills. It’s why Johnson’s friends and fellow innkeepers call The Anniversary House Johnson’s “Hobby House.”
“It’s tough for me because it’s going to take a chunk out of my income,” she said.”But for other innkeepers, it’s devastating.”
The next steps
As Cedar City prepares for a summer of uncertainty, Stewart outlined a handful of steps the city has discussed moving forward.
He and Twitchell have been working in tandem on a project called Cedar City Together, which is an initiative that aims to make smaller businesses safer, much like the ones with corporate attachments.
Stewart said this starts in giving smaller businesses the same kind of cashier barricades Kroger and other chain stores have, as well as other means to properly social distance in order to keep customers healthy.
Stewart said they will start rolling out that step at the beginning of next week.
“So that’s one step,” Stewart said. “Another step is just trying to stay on top of what’s coming down from health departments, from the governor’s office and the governor’s economic response committee so that we can help communicate these things to our businesses.”
Stewart also noted Cedar City has opened itself up for those who want to try and work remotely. With a relatively low coronavirus case count, Cedar City can provide an escape for those trying to work remotely while also getting out of an area with a high concentration of cases.
There haven’t been many moves into Cedar City yet, Stewart said, Mainly, people have called and inquired about what’s open in the city.
As a way to solve multiple issues, Stewart said he would have no issues directing these remote workers to the hotels or the bed and breakfasts around Cedar City. This would’ve solved the problem, but it would help the bed and breakfasts, inns and hotels with some form of income.
While the leaders around Cedar City understand the challenges facing the city, it’s another thing to help the public understand the gravity of the situation as well.
Twitchell, when asked if there was one thing consumers and customers should know during these times, gave a long sigh, took a three-second pause and spoke from her heart.
“There’s definitely going to be some inconveniences,” Twitchell said. “There’s definitely going to be times when people are not going to like the situation, but as customers of community members, we would hope that they would be patient and be kind to these businesses. It’s not just supporting them with your money, but it’s also supporting them with your attitude.”
Follow Chris Kwiecinski on Twitter @OchoK_. You can contact him at CKwiecinsk@thespectrum.com, or (435) 414-3261.
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