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Where has downtown Price been and where is it going?

Sun Advocate reporter

Downtown Price during the 1920s was a busy place.

Depending on what one believes, the city of Price either got its name from an LDS bishop from Spanish Fork who discovered and named the river, but never visited the town, an early resident who helped to layout the city or from a nickname given to it by railroaders. In the last instance, the town was originally called "High Price" by the iron horse men because the farmers here charged so much for the produce the trainmen bought to eat on their journey from Denver to Salt Lake.

From those auspicious beginnings rose the biggest town in Southeastern Utah. While the county's population actually peaked during the 1950s, Price itself has continued to be the main center of commerce in the region. But while it still remains a viable shopping area, a lot of dollars go over the mountain to Provo and even to Salt Lake City. This has been, and continues to be, a worrisome trend to city fathers and business owners.

As transportation changes and Highway 6 continues to be improved, this move toward buying over the mountain could well increase. And if Price becomes more of a bedroom community for the Utah County area with that road improvement, more people will be traveling and spending time along the Wasatch Front as well.

Why people shop over the mountain instead of locally and what can be done about it has been on the minds of everyone involved in the business community for years. More importantly, they have wondered what can be done about it besides pleading with the community to "shop locally."

Now businesses and community leaders have a new tool with which to work. Recently, a company called Wikstrom Economic and Planning Consultants did a survey for Price City through the Utah Main Street Program, asking residents and shoppers in the area a number of questions about their shopping habits and reasons behind them, about downtown Price and its offerings and about what could be done to keep shoppers in the area. Some of the results could have been predicted by anyone who has lived here more than five years, but other findings were very surprising and eye opening.

The four major tools used in the survey were the demographic characteristics of the area, a community survey, a sales leakage analysis (how much money goes out of the area for retail shopping) and an inventory of the downtown area businesses offerings.

The "market area" for the survey was considered Carbon and Emery counties, even though many people from Grand, San Juan and even some from Duschesne come here to shop regularly. The market area has a present population of 32,718, but the study also took into account possible growth in the area, with the population in the market area expected to grown by over 1,800 people by 2010, resulting in extended buying power of about $14 million. The firm also found that the average retail sales per capita in the market area is $7,413 per year, while the state's average was only slightly higher at $7,426. Income in this area however is much lower than in the state as an average, with the local average being only 79 percent of what the state average is.

Repaved, this is Main Street in the fall of 2003.

Here are some of the findings of the study,

•Respondents 35 and over do the majority of their non-grocery shopping in the Price area. Those 34 and younger do most of it outside of Price. Overall, a total of 37 percent of the population does their shopping outside of the market area.

•The number one reason people give for shopping outside the area is that they can get a greater selection elsewhere, while they say the single biggest improvement to the downtown area would be lower prices. They say the greatest strength of the downtown area is convenience and customer service.

•Interestingly, only one percent of those that responded to the survey said that the Price downtown area was "walkable" and pedestrian friendly. Another group, 35 percent said they would like to shop in the evening, a time when most of the retail stores on Main Street are closed.

•As far as individual items go, the thing that shoppers would most like to be able to buy downtown is specialty clothing, but say they cannot.

The consulting firm came up with a number of recommendations for the business community and also offered some strategies on how to increase local sales.

•Add some additional anchor stores to the downtown area.

•Provide increased selection and services to the convenience and value-concious customer who comes to Price to shop at Wal-Mart so they will also be attracted downtown. The survey reinforced the belief that selection and low price are priorities for customers. In a question asking what Main Street merchants could do to make the area more inviting to shoppers, 14 percent said selection would be their number one item priority while 18 percent said lower prices.

•Increase the number and types of eating establishments downtown and capitalize on the lunch time crowd as well as an evening crowd.

•Encourage specialty retail stores downtown, especially in areas that show leakage to out of area retail outlets. Some of the suggestions included offering in present stores or new establishments such things as sporting goods, sewing and needlework, hobbies, stationary, books, nursery and garden supplies and shoes and apparel. Increasing these areas would probably reinforce one of the strengths respondents showed a desire for in the survey, that of convenience. When asked what the strengths of Main Street Price were, convenience came in number one at 25 percent. More stores with better selection would certainly add to this figure. Customer service came in at 24 percent.

•Create appropriate events, festivals, etc. in downtown to add to its ambiance and to bring people into the area.

•Bring more entertainment into the downtown area such as bowling, live music, etc. Also these areas could be explored for their evening potentials as well. In a question on the survey the consultant asked "What time would you prefer to shop Main Street Price?" Answers included 17 percent in the a.m. hours, three percent in the p.m. hours. But when asked in a little different way, the p.m. hours increased. Nine a.m. to 7 p.m. received 15 percent of the responses while evening got 35 percent. As far as shopping days go, Saturday got the highest number of responses with 42 percent while the lowest day was Sunday with only 12 percent. Thirty-nine percent said they had no preference.

•Confront the "higher" price perception issue by doing a market basket price comparison.

•Confront the selection issue through joint downtown advertising such as billing the area at the "downtown mall."

•Establish strong and inviting intersections in the downtown area.

•Make the streets more inviting by doing some rennovation on intersection areas and by revitalizing the streetscape.

The consultants also asked some questions about the Wasatch Front. Thirty percent of the respondents said that price was the biggest reason they shopped over the mountain while 79 percent said it was selection. Of course the things people listed as the greatest disadvantages to shopping over the mountain are traffic and the travel distance.

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