Downtown the lights are bright

By Priscilla Heistad

All of a sudden the trees have begun to shed their brightly colored leaves and the days have gotten much shorter. Is there anyone else that is surprised that Christmas is around the corner? There are so many things to do and traditions to uphold, but the one anticipated every year is shopping. For me, Christmas shopping is a treasure hunt: I don’t just shop until I drop, I shop until I find that perfect gift for each person in my family.

Speaking of shopping, have you noticed what is happening downtown? In the last year, they have formed a merchants association and are now identifying downtown as Harborside Shops. This is a great way of packaging a variety of shops as one attraction. In the tourism business, it is important for a community to have an attraction to lure people to spend money in town. From a Chamber perspective, my hope is that the evolution of Harborside Shops will do just that; lure the cars passing through Oak Harbor to spend time and money in our town.

Just five or six years ago, downtown Oak Harbor was checkered with a handful of shops that were separated by a restaurant here or there, and lined with empty storefronts. It was a struggling group of businesses, not entirely strung together. In fact, the Chamber had a committee at that time that was looking to fill those storefront windows with large historical photos of Oak Harbor, just to spruce things up.

As the committee met and began making plans, spontaneously things began happening downtown. It was as though spring had sprung and slowly lilies were blooming and buds began to appear on trees. Zorba’s opened and then expanded to their new location, which gave their property owner, architect Chris Saxman, a reason to renovate the exterior of the building.

Whidbey Wild Bird, Paint Your Art Out (currently Paint Your World) and Bayview Embroidery opened and began decorating their windows with colorful items. The building that formerly housed Chuck Dann’s Sporting Goods was remodeled and turned into Big Cup Coffee (currently Angelo’s Caffe) and a retail store that houses Eileen’s Creative Kitchenware.

These stores connected some of downtown’s mainstays: Casual House, Jewelry Gallery, Maurice’s, Wind & Tide, China City and more. Then another craft store opened, The Stamping Pad, and the owners of Erawan and PW Murphy’s spiced up the food scene.

The project that gained a lot of attention was the exterior remodel by the Allgires of the building that is now home to Brenda’s Front Porch and Fox Point Ltd. The addition of these new stores this year has connected the east side of downtown to the west side of downtown.

All of this development and renovation has spawned a flurry of business activity on Fidalgo Avenue (the tiny street that runs parallel to the north of Pioneer Way). Joining Electric Beach Tanning Salon, now Fidalgo Avenue is home to hair salons, Amour Cheveaux, The Gallery, and Artesianos; another scrapbooking store, Scrappin’ Friends; and a children’s store.

Downtown has become an attraction. It didn’t happen overnight, and more is on the way. Now, you can park your car at one end, and shop the length of downtown. One of my favorite ways to play hooky from the office is to get my nails done, have lunch, shop for gifts, books and antiques, have coffee and then use up some creative energy.

When I don’t have a whole day available, I schedule a business lunch downtown and park a block or two away. Then, walking back to the car, I dart into a couple of stores for gifts (usually for me), before I head back to the office.

There are many reasons to explore downtown. As the holiday season nears, fill your calendar with business lunches downtown; and then shop your way back to work. It is the best multi-tasking trick in the book.

Speaking of tricks, all of the merchants downtown are looking forward to their annual community service event, No Tricks Safe Treats, on Halloween, Monday, Oct. 31, from 5 to 7 p.m. Headed up by Jill Schacht from the Casual House, the downtown merchants hand out candy to school children dressed as witches, princesses, monsters and dragons.

Bring the kids, and be sure to thank the merchants for providing this safe trick-or-treating event.

Priscilla Heistad is executive director of the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

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