At the March 12 Town Council meeting, it was announced the council would consider a resolution to close a block of King Street in May and June to vehicular traffic during First Friday.
The issue was not discussed with the event's sponsor the Leesburg Downtown Business Association and that did not sit well with association members.
The Town Council voted the resolution down and Vice Mayor Dave Butler noted the street would remain open during First Friday.
“Ultimately, the Town Council voted down the opportunity to discuss the issue with the LDBA,” Butler said. “So as far as I know, unless someone decides to bring it up again in a different way, there is nothing to it. It is gone.”
In the days following the meeting, a rather long and heated email discussion transpired between members of the Town Council, the LDBA and business owners.
“We heard from the LDBA leadership and their concern was two fold. One is we didn't discuss this with them ahead of time. It is their event and it would have been appropriate to discuss with them first before motion was brought up to council,” Butler said. “Their biggest concern with closing King Street is while it would bring more people into that area, it might bring fewer people down Loudoun Street.”
Butch Porter, current president of the LDBA, noted First Friday is a lot different than most events in Leesburg.
“It is put on by merchants for the merchants' customers. It is about the interior of the shops and is not a common area event and it never has been. That is the spirit and focus of the event,” Porter said. “When they decide to bring the focal point back to a common area, we have two problems with that. It ignores the rest of the town, since our entire footprint of the commercial district participates in First Friday, and it puts people in a common area like a Town Square for the event. That's not what we are looking for because First Friday has a certain purpose.”
Porter noted there are very successful events downtown that do involve street closures, but those events are planned by outside organizations, involve guest merchants and focus on a common area. They are also episodic, once-a-year events with themes.
Paige Buscema, owner of Eyetopia on Loudoun Street and a former president and founding member of the LDBA, said if you shut down an area like the proposed King Street closure, it cuts down business in other portions of the town.
“Over the years and my involvement in the LDBA, we have continually tried to be proactive to help the businesses all over town to try to promote downtown as a bigger place than the three square blocks around town hall,” Buscema said. “If you close one block, what happens is the perception for the public becomes that is the play pen. We want to make sure that what we are promoting that downtown is more than three square blocks.
“First Friday has always been about featuring all varieties of business all over town and creating a vibrant walk around in the district,” Buscema said.
Butler said the Town Council would consult with other affected parties when making a decision like this in the future.
“We probably should start out with discussion with the different business groups downtown,” Butler said. “We need to hold these discussions to see what their initial reactions will be before we pass a resolution to discuss it amongst Town Council.”