Rachael Sobczak, behind table, was selling her fresh bread on Gilkey Square the First Friday of November. She will be back when the governor says it is safer to get together .  – Photo by Ken Stern
Rachael Sobczak, behind table, was selling her fresh bread on Gilkey Square the First Friday of November. She will be back when the governor says it is safer to get together . – Photo by Ken Stern

The next Friday night extended shopping hours event in La Conner will be closer to Christmas than the start of the month. 

And that is under the best of conditions. 

Organizers have tentatively rescheduled to Dec. 18 the new First on First local business promotion in response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-week state pandemic restrictions imposed today (Wednesday) to curb spread of the coronavirus. 

“That is our preliminary plan, assuming we open back up by the 18th,” First on First co-coordinator Rick Dole told the Weekly News on Monday. 

First on First, so-named because it takes place on First Street on the first Friday of each month, has enjoyed widespread support – including from members of the Town Council. 

The Council last week committed $1,000 toward heaters and lights for winter First on First gatherings. In addition, Council member John Leaver – also a First on First coordinator – was authorized to scout out reasonably priced small canopies to provide outdoor cover for shoppers on cold weather nights. 

“We’re trying to drum up business,” said Council member Mary Wohleb, “and a lot of it has to be outside because of COVID-19.” 

First on First was launched earlier this year when temperatures were warmer and daylight hours longer. 

“First on First has been successful so far,” Audrey Burrell, director of sales and marketing at La Conner Channel Lodge told the Council during its Nov. 10 Zoom meeting, “but we’re coming into the tough time of year. We want to keep the momentum going.” 

So do Town officials, aware of the threat COVID-19 poses to sales tax revenues. 

Burrell, who has surveyed First on First participants, said one business responded that the extended Friday night shopping hours had “paid their rent in one evening.” 

Dole said benefits of First on First are measured in more than dollars and cents. 

“Some businesses have seen their sales increase, while others have stayed flat,” said Dole. “A couple of the businesses have said they didn’t have great sales, but they liked the vibe.” 

Council member MaryLee Chamberlain termed First on First “a unifying experience.” 

The Council briefly considered approving acquisition of a large tent or canopy for wintry First on First nights. But Mayor Pro Tem Bill Stokes cautioned against that move, noting potential maintenance costs and storage hassles. 

“If you have any moisture in it and you take it down,” he explained, “you’ll have mold.” 

Renting rather than purchasing a large outdoor covering was nixed due to cost factors. 

“It would be expensive because of the set-up and take-down costs,” Leaver said. 

Burrell said the cost of renting a large canopy for a weekend can exceed $1,000. 

“It just doesn’t pencil out,” Wohleb confirmed. 

That led Stokes to suggest the less costly option of using smaller canopies. 

But the recent spike in COVID-19 cases across Washington state that prompted Inslee to announce sweeping new pandemic restrictions on Sunday has put future special events like First on First somewhat in limbo. 

La Conner Chamber of Commerce Director Heather Carter on Monday said First on First is not alone in being impacted by the new state COVID-19 sanctions. 

“The Chamber has made the decision to cancel the Ladies Night event scheduled for this Friday,” she said. 

Carter also added the Nov. 20 Holiday Bazaar to a list of cancelled or postponed events. 

“I’m still waiting to hear about the status of the holiday lighted boat parade,” she said. “I will keep you posted as soon as I have more information.”