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COVID-19 business impacts are here to stay despite optimism of new year

Posted at 9:30 PM, Jan 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-02 23:37:08-05

SALT LAKE CITY — As the new year comes, one thing that will not be left in 2020 is the financial impact on small businesses that COVID-19 and shutdowns had.

“We watched our traffic go from 20-50 people a day to zero,” said, Darin Newell, co-owner of Exit Outdoors shop, which is about to close its Salt Lake City location.

He isn’t alone. As of late last year, the consumer rating website Yelp reported that more than 167,000 businesses had marked their establishments as “closed” at some point in 2020 with nearly 100,000 of them being permanent.

“If 5,000 people can go to a Costco in a day, why not 20 people come see a local business?” Newell said. “Hopefully this year people are more open to supporting local businesses — just getting out there.”

But it's too late for him and his Salt Lake City location.

As he spoke to FOX 13, Newell cheerfully greeted every person who walked through his doors and told them about his closing sale.

“I saw that you guys were closing,” one customer said as he walked through the door.

“Yeah, it's a real bummer, man,” Newell responded. “Nothing we planned for.”

It was a perfect storm of things that caused them to lose a lot of money during 2020 — despite a general uptick in outdoor recreation.

"A lot of people have been excited to do more outdoor things, but the problem is we aren’t seeing an increase of people coming in," Newell said.

Next was the biggest financial impact: the cancellation of outdoor trade shows.

“That’s how we got the money to get this inventory to get these stores going,” he said. “Trade shows are just canceling one by one.”

Then just days after the cancellations of most major shows, Newell got the news that the resorts in Utah were shutting their doors for the season in March.

“No ski resorts, no winter sales,” he remarked and shrugged his shoulders.

But the most unexpected blow didn’t come from the virus or anything related to it.

“You can still see the cracks and everything — they literally chained up the doors and ripped them out,” Newell said, showing a customer the damage still left from a robbery that took around a year's rent worth of merchandise away from them.

“People with garbage bags looking like Santa Claus just grabbing entire racks,” he described. “I mean, one whole rack of new jackets could have been four grand.”

It was a childhood dream of Newell's to own an outdoor store, and he made it his own right here in Utah.

“I grew up in Hawaii and I always wanted to have a really cool surf shop,” he said. “We tell people we're building a mountain-style surf shop for Utah.”

Exit Outdoors still has one location left, and the plan is to sell everything they can, regroup at their other store, and then wait out the pandemic until they can regroup and start again.