There's no magic wand to wave to protect local businesses and the greater economy amid a 100-year pandemic, but Loudoun County's small-town elected officials appear to be doing their best to aid our local entrepreneurs during this unprecedented challenge.
Middleburg was quick out the gate, launching a restaurant voucher program in April to incentivize town residents to order takeout from local restaurants. Towns like Purcellville, Lovettsville and Hillsboro have now followed suit with similar aid programs intended to spur economic activity at small businesses crippled by painful – though scientifically justified – restrictions aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19.
Last week, the Town of Leesburg got in on the action. From now until Oct. 24, the town will close South King Street from Market to Loudoun streets on Friday and Saturday evenings to give some downtown restaurants the option to expand capacity via outdoor seating, Leesburg officials announced Wednesday.
Participants in the new outdoor dining program will include Black Hoof Brewing Company, Delirium Café, Echelon Wine Bar, King Street Oyster Bar, Leesburg Gourmet and The Wine Kitchen, according to town officials. Further details like whether additional eateries will join the list – or an expansion on the latest expansion – are forthcoming.
While some restaurateurs will tell you the town's expanded seating arrangement is coming woefully late, this is a case where everyone seems to agree better late than never.
"We have been looking forward to a program like this even before COVID, where the Town of Leesburg would create the ability to enjoy outdoor dining," Echelon Wine Bar co-owner Aimee Henkle told the Times-Mirror.
Looking ahead, we full-throatedly encourage town staff and elected leaders in Leesburg – the largest town in Virginia – to look for opportunities to expand the outdoor dining accommodations and further efforts to soften the coronavirus blow to Leesburg-based businesses of all sectors. While we insist on being measured in our critiques during such an unforeseen and unparalleled challenge, we do feel comfortable in proclaiming the town hasn't done enough. Where's a town-wide business marketing plan amid the pandemic? Why not a voucher program similar to one that was implemented and seemingly successful in Middleburg?
Leesburg Town Council and executive staff should be tackling these questions in the weeks ahead (and, of course, not letting political differences interfere in doing good work that will benefit the people they represent), but for now we'll raise a glass – safely and outdoors – to last week's announcement.