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We hit the streets of Salt Lake to see how the working citizens around the palace feel about losing Outdoor Retailer after just three more shows.
With Outdoor Retailer leaving Utah, Salt Lake service workers aren’t sure what to feel. They’re irritated with Governor Herbert’s obstinate lack of support for public lands, worried about the economic consequences, but mostly, they’re sad to see friends of 20-plus years go.
Last night, Outdoor Retailer announced it would not be considering Utah in their request for proposals process. After their contract ends with the state in the Summer of 2018, OR will not return, taking with them their $40 to $50 million in direct economic annual impact.
The announcement came after a call between OIA’s Executive Director, Amy Roberts, and Governor Herbert. “Unfortunately, what we heard from Governor Herbert was more of the same,” Roberts said in a statement. “It is clear that the governor indeed has a different perspective on the protections of public lands from that of our members and the majority of Western state voters, both Republicans and Democrats – that’s bad for our American heritage, and it’s bad for our businesses.”
Paul Edwards, Utah’s Deputy Chief of Staff, released a statement Thursday night calling OR’s decision to leave “offensive.”
“It reflects a gross ingratitude to a community that has embraced the Outdoor Retailer show, subsidizing its success and expansion through direct investment — let alone extraordinary hospitality,” he said.
The local opinion
The city’s businesses have gladly welcomed the convention each year since 1996, hiring more staff members, extending business hours, and blocking out hotel rooms to ensure everyone has a place to stay.
“[It’s] a sad day for those of us who see such benefit from Outdoor Retailer. OR leaving the state is going to have a huge impact on many businesses, but especially those of us in the hospitality industry,” said Judy Cullen, marketing director of Squatters Pub Brewery.
This three-story pub just steps away from the Salt Palace has an increase of sales of up to 20 percent during the weeks of OR, including the weeks leading up to and after the show. OR brought in about 29,000 individuals last summer, and the winter market had 21,000, making it one of the biggest conventions that the city hosts.
Jeff Bierce, owner of SLC Bike Taxi, said his employees are riding from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. during the convention, and they look forward to it every time. He’ll miss that business, but he’s also glad OR is standing up for Utah’s public lands and holding onto its values.
Like many business owners, he is scared and uncertain about the economic impact. But, the overall response is a melancholy one– everyone agrees what they’ll miss most is the light-hearted energy and unique atmosphere that OR brings to the city, including Cafe Molise owner Fred Moesinger.
“It’s hard to overstate what great people the convention brings in,” Moesinger said. They are down-to-Earth, high energy, and don’t mind being crammed into a full restaurant, which is typical during the weeks of OR.
A few years ago, OR almost left Utah because it was outgrowing the Salt Palace, and Cafe Molise wanted them to stay so badly that they printed and outfitted their staff with shirts saying, “If you build it, they will stay.” Cafe Molise was ecstatic when the Salt Palace answered by increasing their size and providing an outdoor tent area.
Each show, sales go up 40 to 60 percent from a regular sales week at this Italian restaurant across the street from the Salt Palace. There is a chain reaction of sales, too. As restaurants anticipate increased revenue, they stock up on ingredients, often buying locally and affecting smaller businesses, like bakeries who sell them bread and breweries that stock up on Utah craft beers.
The chain of reaction goes both ways, though. As businesses mourn the future departure of Outdoor Retailer, they will have to consider the negligence of local representatives to stand up for local commerce the next time they see those names on a ballot.