Closing First Street to traffic on busy shopping weekends has been discussed here for decades. 

Only now, it is an idea whose time is drawing near. 

Mayor Ramon Hayes and Town Council members are open to turning downtown into a walking plaza for a potential local Octoberfest celebration one weekend this fall. 

The prospects for an autumn sidewalk sale on First Street gained momentum at Council’s June 23 meeting. Town officials opted not to close downtown to traffic for the July Fourth holiday, based on survey responses from residents and local business owners. 

“The Fourth of July would be too soon to work out some of the (logistical) issues,” explained Council member Mary Wohleb. “I like the idea of doing it for Octoberfest. That’s a time when business is dropping off and it would be a way to boost business at that time.” 

Town Planning Commissioner Marna Hanneman had suggested the Town consider a First Street traffic closure over the Fourth of July holiday, noting success of a similar measure in Leavenworth, the Bavarian-styled Cascade Mountains tourist town on the Wenatchee River. 

Hanneman put forth the sidewalk sale scenario as a means of helping stem spread of the coronavirus prior to Town Administrator Scott Thomas drafting a resolution requiring masks be worn inside stores and when people are unable to maintain social distancing outdoors. 

Town officials did not formally approve the measure because three hours before their video-conferenced session Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide executive order requiring facial coverings. 

That shifted Council attention to the First Street proposal. 

Prior to the meeting, Council member John Leaver had sought input on the issue via social media. Hayes and Chamber of Commerce Director Heather Carter also fielded comments. 

All received mixed responses. 

“The concept is sound,” said Hayes, a First Street business owner. “It’s a wonderful experiment, but it’s also a fragile time with people starting to re-open. 

“I know at least 12 businesses opposed to this,” Hayes said of the July Fourth timetable. “If we go ahead with the experiment and it works, that’s great. But if we experiment and it fails, we’ll be damaged further.” 

Carter and Hayes also pointed out that with La Conner and Skagit County remaining in Phase 2 of the state COVID-19 Safe Start plan the Chamber would not be able to fully advertise a sidewalk sale event. 

“It would be a risk without proper planning,” Hayes said. “We’re not in Phase III or Phase IV. The basic idea is incredibly sound. Maybe it’s something we should do at the end of the (tourist) season.” 

Given that, a consensus soon emerged in favor of the Octoberfest plan advanced by Wohleb, one not unlike a Bicycle Sunday format introduced in the 1980s by then-Historic Preservation and Planning Commission Chair Ron Shrigley. 

“It’s a great idea,” said Council member Jacques Brunisholz, “but July Fourth is the wrong time.” 

“It doesn’t seem like the right time,” agreed Council member MaryLee Chamberlain. “I think it has some real merit with the appropriate timing.” 

Which, according to Town officials, would be in the fall. 

Hayes vowed the Octoberfest concept would not be dropped and predicted it would receive joint support from the Town and Chamber. 

“We want to make sure this is something that retains momentum,” he said. 

In related notes: 
*The Council endorsed hanging a banner at the east entrance to town reminding the public of the state facial covering requirement. 
*Members unanimously approved the hiring of an appraiser for the Hedlin’s ballfield property off Maple Avenue, for which the Town has secured a one-year option. If the Town ultimately purchase the nearly two-acre site, it plans to develop housing and a park/play area there. The Town also intends to have appraised the property on the northeast edge of La Conner where a section of dike protection is planned. “The wheels are in motion there, too,” Hayes said. 
*Town officials said La Conner residents Mit and Maureen Harlan have entered into an agreement to purchase the Kirsch waterfront property on North First Street. “Their primary goal is to prevent anything from being built,” Thomas said, “in order to preserve their view.” The Harlans live just south of the vacant Kirsch property. Thomas said the Kirsch sale will net the Town about $200,000. “I have no problem with it,” said Council member Bill Stokes. “If it’s a $200,000 net payment that comes out to about what we paid for it.”