SLC airport to boot out popular local shops
Since 1961, the Crismon family has been a staple at Salt Lake City International Airport, parlaying a single newsstand with candy and sundries into a 16-store family franchise, now in its third generation.
Ever been lured by a magazine at Crismon's News & Views or wooed by the environmentally friendly gifts at Your Planet or swayed by the clothes at the Zeta & Co. boutique?
Well, those airport shops and more will vanish this summer, ending the Crismons' 50-year run of serving travelers on the fly after they were outbid save for two food outlets by the promise of national chain stores and bigger profits.
The airport is shopping the leases for every retail space and food-and-beverage stand in an effort to draw brands that are "more modern" and more familiar. An announcement on the retail lineup will be made any day, when contracts are finalized.
Officials pledge a new blend of local merchants and chain stores, yet the Crismons' half-century legacy soon will fade away like a vapor trail.
"It will put us out of business," said Brooke Quaintance, vice president of retail for the Crismon family business known as Air Terminal Gifts. "Our customers are definitely not happy with it. They're very disappointed. We have a huge following."
The biggest sin, argues the nonprofit group Local First Utah, is the location. Stripping local flavor from the state's high-profile entry point, the group says, sends the wrong message.
"We're pretty shocked and incredibly disappointed," said Joelle Kanshepolsky, executive director of Local First. "We want people to come through our airport and see what's unique about Utah. It's a shame, and it's a wasted opportunity not to mention the economic impact."
Suddenly, City Hall's "buy local" refrain sounds as hollow to some as an empty jetway.
It's unclear, however, what input (if any) the Mayor's Office had. The move was initiated by the city's Department of Airports, which hired a consultant to study the efficiency of the airport's retail space. The consultant found room to grow, which led to August's comprehensive bid.
"It's in our best interest to take advantage of the space we have in the most productive way," said airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann, who called it a "program refreshment." "This is the first major redesign of the program since 1959."
Most of the selections were made earlier this year, says Gann, who notes Airport Terminal Gifts successfully bid on two food-and-beverage shops. Overall, she says, firms were chosen to operate and manage retail concessions based on their partners.
"There is a combination of local presence and national brands," she said, "which is what our customers have asked for."
Insiders confirm The Paradies Shops, one of the nation's largest airport retailers, is one winning bidder. Paradies operates more than 500 stores in more than 70 markets, including PGA Tour Shops, Brooks Brothers, Harley-Davidson and The New York Times Bookstores.
"People will be very excited when they see what is coming," Gann added. "It's more modern. It's more in keeping in line with people's expectations of airport retail."
But Bill Marshall, president of Salt Lake City candy wholesaler A.W. Marshall, says changing the management of the shops all at once is not wise. "It should be a process with some opportunity to compare," said Marshall, who also will take a hit after supplying the Crismon family with candy, gum and snacks for 25 years.
The businessman praised Air Terminal Gifts as a key part of the airport's "atmosphere."
"A local business that started out at the airport with a long track record of 50 years is just gone," he lamented, "in one day."
Gann notes the makeover will create new jobs and says some winning bidders are pledging to hire displaced employees. "These are difficult decisions," she said, "especially with long-term providers we've had good relations with."
The airport operates as an enterprise fund without general tax dollars meaning it must maximize its internal revenue. There is little question the airport, with $70 million a year in sales, is a desirable retail hub. According to the bid proposal, 2009's gross sales for food exceeded $44 million. General retail accounted for $16 million, while specialty retail generated $10 million.
Bid documents advertised eight "packages" one with 15 shops that range from snacks, coffee and kiosks to gourmet foods, adventure wear, jewelry and a spa.
Matt Monson, Local First Utah's state coordinator, says Salt Lake City International is one of the few airports with a prominent local presence.
"The problem with [the new model] is it's often a local shell filled with national product where they're outsourcing the product which is really defeating the purpose," he said. "This is kind of a big deal. This is the face of our community to visitors as they come in."
Art Raymond, Mayor Ralph Becker's spokesman, says his boss is "absolutely committed" to protecting local businesses, but acknowledges the challenges airport managers face in "striking a balance between national and local purveyors for their unique customer base."
To that point, Airport Terminal Gifts bemoans the "cookie-cutter, corporate-owned" feel at other airports, claiming repeat customers say they fly through Salt Lake City just to shop with them.
"We've been asked by many customers whether we will franchise it," Quaintance said, or at least open stand-alone stores elsewhere in Salt Lake City. The family has the work force. After all, the business started by Quaintance's grandparents still has her parents, aunts, uncles, sister and brother working for three more months at the airport.
"This is definitely hard for us," she said before pausing. "We're going to start over."
Airport overhaul: Chain stores flying in?
To modernize, add more familiar brands and boost profits, airport officials are swapping out retail shops and food-and-beverage stands beginning in July. They promise a "blend" of national and local stores but aren't yet revealing any names.
This much is certain: The half-century run of a family franchise will end as the Crismons' retail shops are shown the door. Here are some of the family's airport hot spots that will go dark June 30:
Zeta & Co.
West of Brooklyn
Crismon's News & Views