Downtown Oak Har-bor was a little busier than normal Thursday night. Although it was overcast, restaurants and shops were experiencing more visitors than usual, according to members of the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
“This is not the amount of foot traffic we would normally see on a Thursday night,” said Sarah Schacht, founder of the Allgire Project.
The increased downtown activity coincides with Open Air Thursdays, a new event organized by the chamber and the Oak Harbor Main Street Association.
Because of the economic impacts of COVID-19, members of the chamber and Main Street brainstormed ideas to increase patronage downtown.
“We may lose 25 to 30 percent of our small business,” Schacht said. “Unless we’re finding creative ways to support them right now, we’re going to lose more things than we know. We’re going to lose business, jobs, and the spirit of community.“
One of the creative ideas was the Open Air Thursdays, launched this week. From 3-7 p.m., restaurants and shops bring some of their business to sidewalks and parking lots of Pioneer Way.
“The purpose is to invite the community to shop local to help our small business downtown and throughout the entire town,” said Vicki Graham, executive director of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
The event is organized with an eye toward safety. Businesses have increased outdoor capacity, people are asked to bring masks and it’s held on a Thursday instead of over the weekend.
“Our biggest risk in terms of COVID on the island is actually from off-island tourists,” Schacht said. “So if we keep this hyperlocal, it’s the local community coming out and having fun without so much higher risk of catching the disease.”
While the streets weren’t bustling with people, Graham said, the downtown area is normally very quiet on Thursday nights.
“We have more than doubled the foot traffic on a Thursday,” Graham said. “Overall would we love to see more foot traffic? Absolutely, but for a pilot (project), I would consider it a success.”
As a third generation Oak Harbor resident, Schacht said she knows how important local businesses are to a community.
“I grew up in downtown, so I know what it can be like when it’s thriving and people to come to feel a spirit of community,” she said.
Schacht is offering up the Allgire Project parking space for local businesses that don’t have a physical location.
Newly established hot dog cart Flightline Franks and almost-a-year-old flower shop Poppy and Pomegranate are currently two businesses occupying the space on Thursdays.