Dominos fall one after another as
businesses deal with restrictions
By Doug Lowe
Gloria Winter, who prefers her old title as treasurer of the Ephraim Co-operative Mercantile Association, thinks her new title, Chief Financial Officer, or CFO, sounds way too grandiose. Whatever title she goes by, Winter finds herself getting desperate to find some way to keep the operation solvent.
“Even though we have no rent because the city lets us use the building more-or-less free of charge, I don’t see how we can keep paying our utility bills,” Winter reports.
For the Co-Op to close its doors would be a terrible shame and spoil the inspiring story of how the beautiful historic building has come full circle since it was built back in 1871-72 with a co-operative store on the ground floor and a meeting hall on the second floor. Back then, the original co-op store sold merchandise produced locally, by the area’s pioneering residents, along with items from as far away as Salt Lake, where the ZCMI cooperative was headquartered.
Over the years, what had been constructed as the Ephraim United Order Cooperative building eventually became other things. Notably, in1888 the Sanpete Stake Academy was established there. Over time, it moved on and became Snow College. Some 33 years ago, in the late 1980s, Snow students and other locals displaced by the closing of Ephraim’s Sperry-Univac computer assembly plant, formed the current co-op organization to help them sell handicrafts and other artistic creations made at home. And, since then, a literal thousand or more have sold their arts and crafts out of the historic store front.
Sadly, the impressive structure’s circular success story is now threaten by an unforeseen economic downturn. So, Winter and the organization’s other leaders are being hard pressed to figure out how they can keep the non-profit organization afloat. As CFO, Winter “tried applying for some of the new loans from the Federal Government, but learned we do not qualify because we actually have no employees. All of us who work in the store are volunteers, and those who work at home get paid, when their products sell, as independent contractors.”
Even keeping someone in the store, so the doors can remain open, has become a bit of a problem: Two of the four volunteers who regularly staff the store have stop coming rather than risk contracting Covid-19. Besides being the CFO, Winter happens to be one of the two remaining volunteers working in the store to keep the doors open. Sadly, Winter reports, “Staying open isn’t solving our cash flow problem because we used to make 80 percent of our sales to customers from out of town.”
Now days, those out-of-town visitors have all but disappeared. Snow College students are no longer visited by parents from elsewhere. And, other attractions like the Scandinavian Festival, the Mormon Miracles Pageant and the temple in Manti, are no longer drawing crowds.
“And, we are not just missing customers in the store downstairs,” says Winter. “Renting out the upstairs for many wedding receptions and special events used to make a big contribution to our income.”
Some have suggested starting a GoFundMe page. Others, a web-based store with all products displayed, and a shopping cart customers can readily fill. All such ideas required energy, expertise and financial resources the organization doesn’t have. According to Winter, “In a good year we would end up with around $1,000 that would get used for things like a new computer.” As a non-profit organization, most nearly all of the income got paid out to pay the local crafters and artisans, some more distant suppliers, and the never-ending utility bills that now have Winter so worried.
Manti’s Rat Fink Museum and Annual Reunion
The unique Manti attraction known as the Rat Fink Museum was opened by Ilene Roth as a place to honor her deceased husband, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and display his some of the artistic creations that made him a counter-culture icon during the hippie era and beyond.
Going on 18 years ago, Ilene and her family held the first “Rat Fink Reunion,” which has since become an annual event attracting attendees from all over the United States as well as a few foreign countries. A big part of the annual event was the display of many customized hot rods like Big Daddy Roth always loved and often drew in his artwork.
The Rat Fink character created by Roth, was a wild, almost scary cartoon figure—something of a hippie-era counterpoint to Walt Disney’s mainstream Mickey Mouse. In any case, Roth’s fatter, wild rat became an international icon. And, for years, fans have come to Manti to pay homage to the man whose creativity they couldn’t deny.
“We were getting ready for the 18th annual reunion,” Ilene reports with touch of regret in her voice. “I already had registrations from lots of car owners, wanting to come and display their souped-up machines, some coming from as far away as Chile and Australia.”
Always held on the first weekend of June, the Annual Rat Fink Reunion has become a big boon to Manti’s economy. It brought to town people who rented rooms and dined at local restaurants. On a much smaller scale than the Mormon Miracles Pageant, and attracting a very different crowd, the reunion nevertheless brought considerable income to town—and to the Rat Fink Museum’s operation as well.
When the new coronavirus outbreak forced folks to stay at home, Ilene still harbored hope that by June 4, 5, and 6, things would return to normal. In consultation with Kent Barton, Manti’s city manager, she continued making plans for the reunion’s 18th incarnation with “Finksters” arriving to join with other “family members” coming from faraway places like Denmark, Germany, Australia and Chile. And, as the virus-controlling restrictions dragged on, the hopes harbored by Ilene and his helpful family members began to dwindle.
Then, only a few days ago, Kent Barton informed her that higher-up governmental authorities had informed him that they could not allow the reunion in June. Bringing visitors from all over the states, and from foreign nations, at this point in time would be just too risky. Sanpete County still had no identified cases of the new coronavirus, and those responsible for the public health wanted to keep it that way.
Undaunted, Roth’s wife and family members turned their energies to figuring out how to host the 2020 reunion online rather than in person. So far, some of those who were planning to bring their customized car to town, are getting on board with the plan to make a video, to share online, introducing themselves and their custom creation. Similarly, graphic artists influenced by Big Daddy’s style will be exhibiting their art works online.
So, for those who honor Big Daddy Roth’s memory, the show will go on. But, in a very different form. Perhaps a form that will prove less satisfying to some, yet introduce an even larger audience to his unique graphic artwork and automotive artistry.