Whether the town should close a portion of King Street for the monthly First Friday activities has been debated periodically for years. Now, that debate could face its first real test next month.
An application has been filed with the town to close King Street between Loudoun and Market streets for August’s First Friday event, the evening of Friday, Aug. 2. Named “Stroll the Streets for First Friday,” it’s an idea spearheaded by 27 South owner Nick McCarter and endorsed by the town’s Economic Development Commission, of which McCarter is chairman.
Town Manager Kaj Dentler said Monday his staff is waiting for McCarter to turn in some remaining paperwork, at which time he plans to approve his request. He has already reached out to members of the Town Council via email to give them the heads up about the proposed event and to see if any objected to the street closure. None did. Had an objection been raised, the matter would have come before the council for discussion at its July 8 work session.
Councilman Josh Thiel, who appointed McCarter to the commission, is perhaps one of the most vocal supporters of the trial street closure on the council. He discussed the proposal with the rest of the commission as the council’s liaison.
“This is going to generate activity for the downtown,” he said.
McCarter also reached out to Sola Pallotta, owner of the Very Virginia shop and member of the Historic Downtown Leesburg Association, who gave her OK on the organization’s behalf.
Dentler emphasized that the street closure is for the August event only. Should McCarter or another group propose to close the street for any future First Friday event, that matter will first come before the council, Dentler said.
“We’re treating this as a trial approach,” he said. “And if somebody wants to do it again I’m going to take it to the council and see if they wish to opine on it.”
The street closure does not allow for any additional on-street dining or entertainment, Dentler said. And McCarter must pick up the tab for closing the streets, which includes staff putting up and taking down barricades and additional police presence. That cost is around $800. As conditions of the street closure, accommodations must also be made for China King’s delivery driver to have a reserved parking space, likely on Market Street, and for the Cartwheels golf cart business’ route to be altered.
McCarter said he was hopeful that residents who may now feel that the sidewalks are too busy to brave First Friday with young kids or strollers will welcome the opportunity to have an expanded walk zone during the popular monthly event.
He said the proposal isn’t aimed at benefiting his King Street business.
“This has nothing to do with the well-being of my business. I love this town and I’m willing to invest in it and help promote it in hopes it is successful,” he said.
McCarter noted that First Friday is not always a big revenue-generating night for his or other downtown businesses, but instead a marketing opportunity for the entire downtown. He’s not convinced it will draw visitors away from the shops and restaurants outside of King Street, which has been one of the arguments raised against the First Friday closure in past years.
“Anyone thinking of this as just a closure for one [night] is not thinking about it long term. This is about bringing as much visibility and notice to Leesburg so the nights that aren’t First Friday you’ve got people coming back, saying I want to see this town again,” McCarter said.