For decades, Leesburg merchants have debated ways to get more foot traffic in the downtown historic district. Suddenly, this month, the sidewalks are bustling again.
It isn’t the town’s $5 million streetscape upgrade that is drawing crowds (King Street’s outside dining tables remain mostly empty most days). Instead, the credit goes to an uber-popular free smartphone app—Pokémon Go.
It started two weeks ago with a parade of pale millennials staring expressionless at their phone screens pacing back and forth along the downtown streets. Soon, older residents joined the virtual hunt and the craze has continued to build.
The increase in foot traffic hasn’t been without problems. For example, the town’s Georgetown Park on South King Street is a popular gathering spot—apparently one with a lot of Pokémon sightings. The park also became a popular nighttime hunting spot, with crowds of 100 or more convening at 2 or 3 in the morning to play the game together, some even offering snack sales and phone re-charging stations.
The problem is the town’s parks close at dark and last week the Leesburg Police Department began enforcing that rule.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of trespassing in our public parks. As a result of the number of people congregating, there have been parking complaints as well, Interim Police Chief Vanessa Grigsby said. “As a town we’re discussing strategies that could work for both the Pokémon gaming community and town staff. From a law enforcement perspective, we just want to remind the community of trespassing laws, especially on private property—and gamers should pay attention and know their surroundings at all times, so they lessen their chances of becoming victimized.”
The town staff met this week to explore ways to accommodate the gamers—perhaps even encourage them—while also looking out for public safety and limiting disturbances. One result was an agreement to allow the gamers in the Ida Lee Park, Georgetown Park, and Raflo Park for extended hours—from dawn until 10 p.m. They also urged hunters to be careful crossing streets, pick up litter, be courteous of others, and to avoid suspicious locations, especially at night.
The Leesburg Department of Parks and Recreation has put up a sign declaring the park a “Pokémon Go friendly park.”
RJ Jacobs plays at the park frequently.
“It’s not even the people in the park that are causing the problem,” Jacobs said. “I’ve been here a lot of nights when the cops showed up. It’s the people driving up and down the street.”
Jacobs said the police are allowing aspiring Pokémon trainers to stand on the sidewalk by the park and play as long as they’re not in the way—a conversation that was cut short when another player wandered by to ask, “Are you guys only catching Rattatas and Pidgeys?”
Meanwhile, merchants are working to capitalize on the craze. The Village at Leesburg on Saturday offered a Village Pokémap to attract gamers to the center and 15 businesses offered special deals during the event.
Reporter Renss Greene contributed to this report.