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Leesburg merchants protest ‘First Friday’ street closure pitch

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.”


Mere discussion!!!!!!!!!! Come on, Neil.  It got to a vote.  This is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay past mere discussions.  This was a power grab by Kelly Burk to shut down, and drive out customers who drive up to a business on King Street.  Why is it that, a business owner (Neil) who is not on King Street, seems to always like the idea of closing down King Street.  I would not like to think it is because Neil wants to hurt the businesses on King Street, so that he can profit.  Bottom line.  This was a stinker of an idea by Kelly Burk who has demonstrated a total lack of “thinking power.”  Thanks to Mayor and the other council members who voted this one down.

     The recent tempest over Town Council member Kelly Burk’s mere suggestion of a idea could lead weaker hearts to despair over what passes for political discourse these days. I can understand the LDBA’s (and other Council members’) concerns regarding Councilwoman Burk’s proposal as it related to the question of closing the one block of King Street, between Market and Loudoun, during the hours of the First Friday event. But, it seems to me that more and more, offense is taken at the mere initiation of a dialogue. Could the conversation have been begun in a more politically adept way? Perhaps. But, does that make it a crime for having brought forth the proposal at all? I think not. Having lived through the Watergate period in the 1970s I can be as conspiracy minded as anyone, but does this instance, as characterized by business owner Paige Buscema as smacking of, “…ulterior motives and other agendas…” really rise to any level of cloak and dagger?

     I am also curious about the LDBA Board’s characterization of Ms Burk’s question as some sort of collusion with, and premeditation by, the Downtown Improvement Association (DIA), and then carrying that further in trying to connect it to the Downtown improvement project as it pertains to two blocks of King Street between Cornwall and Loudoun Streets.  There has been a more than two year effort, begun by creating a consensus of approximately 100 downtown business and property owners, to work towards Leesburg as an Amazing Place. Many merchants and restauranteurs have been very supportive of this effort, and quite a few volunteer professionals with no ties to the DIA have donated countless hours of input, design and mediation work. The only “agenda” is, in partnership with business, Council and Staff, to create a location and atmosphere conducive to attracting an ever-increasing number of shoppers and diners to Downtown Leesburg. This is a goal supported by all businesses downtown, and a design process, I believe, of which and about which the LDBA Board should be supportive and more informed.

Neil Steinberg
Downtown business owner of Photoworks for 34 years
Leesburg resident

“First Friday has always been about featuring all varieties of business all over town and creating a vibrant walk around in the district”.  I agree Paige and there are needed improvements to make Downtown Leesburg more walkable.  The mix of cars and people is unpleasant and hazardous.  Many sidewalks are unpassable with a stroller due to over-sized utility poles in the middle of the NARROW sidewalk.  There isn’t even a sidewalk to get customers to Mom’s Apple Pie and the Yogurt shop!  Downtown business owners should work towards solutions that improve access to the downtown and stop clinging to their antiquated devotion to on-street parking.  There are creative solutions that improve business and the experience for the customer.

I remember going down the first month I was able to go and thinking, “Well, when are they going to close the street?” So I’m in favor of the idea of closing something off—maybe a rotating thing.

I agree the Council should have discussed this with the LDBA.

Does Frederick MD close Patrick or Market Streets for their First Saturday or do they just do stuff along Carroll Creek?

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