Updated with new quote at end of article.
For the second year in a row, Walkable Main Street will transform downtown Edmonds into a weekend pedestrian-only space.
The decision to stay the course was first announced by Mayor Mike Nelson in a Monday letter to the Edmonds Downtown Alliance (Ed!), in which he cited what he described as a “huge amount of…input from the public, dozens of business owners as a result of our surveys, the business roundtable, councilmember input, emails, calls and Facebook comments,” that supported the two-day street closure as the clear “front runner in public opinion among the various options.”
Begun last summer mainly in response to COVID, Walkable Main was seen as a way to draw people to downtown in a pandemic-safe way, thereby providing an economic boost to downtown restaurants and businesses. While restaurants enjoyed an immediate benefit, many retailers saw their business drop off. They attribute this to lack of parking and closed streets making their businesses less accessible to customers.
In response, a group of downtown businesses recently proposed a compromise, suggesting that Walkable Main Street operate on Sundays only, leaving the streets open on Saturdays to traffic and parking. Dubbed Save Our Saturdays (SOS), the proposal received support from a coalition of businesses and citizens, but apparently not enough to convince city decision-makers.
Nelson’s letter was followed by a press release in which the city said that in response to input, the 2021 Walkable Main Street program will include some fine-tuning. The program will operate for a shorter period (June 19 through Labor Day – last year it ran June 20 through Oct. 11); implement expanded areas of public parking to include designated ADA stalls; and provide additional seating and tables along Main Street. In addition, the city is planning what it describes as “a substantial promotion of Main Street retailers” to be made via the city Facebook page and through signage and handouts. And it also says it will pursue a cross-promotional campaign between retailers and restaurants to “encourage visitors to both shop and dine while they enjoy Walkable Main Street.”
The street closure area will be the same as in 2020, running along Main Street from Sixth Avenue to 3rd Avenue. Vehicle U-turns will continue to be allowed around the fountain, with clear pedestrian pathways protected by metal crowd fencing. Note that on Saturdays when the Edmonds Museum Market is in operation, the one-block stretch of 5th Avenue North between Main and Bell Streets will also be closed. But according to city spokesperson Kelsey Foster, this is part of the “Farmer’s Market footprint and not an official part of Walkable Main Street.”
Nelson said that “after hearing from the public as well as our downtown businesses, we are looking forward to bringing back this popular program that promotes the charm of our city, encouraging shoppers and diners from Edmonds and the greater Puget Sound region to enjoy our downtown in a safe and comfortable way.”
Downtown retailer and resident Jenny Murphy was among those who advocated for a Sundays-only walkable Main Street, and she was disappointed with the mayor’s announcement.
“The City of Edmonds missed a great opportunity to compromise and show support of its downtown retailers…truly a disappointment,” Murphy said. “This move shows a great lack of understanding and empathy and will forever change the vibe of our once charming downtown, a downtown many of us have spent years building and nurturing. Just think…a compromise would have allowed all to move forward feeling valued and heard.”
— By Larry Vogel