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Edmonds businesses at odds over 'Walkable Main Street' program

The City of Edmonds made Main Street pedestrian-only to help businesses during the pandemic. Some loved it, but others said it backfired.

EDMONDS, Wash — As we inch closer to the end of the pandemic, cities are deciding whether to keep some of the changes brought on by the coronavirus. In Edmonds, not everyone agrees which changes have been positive.

"We're living in very, very difficult times," said Niko Raptis, owner of The Loft restaurant. "I think any positive help from the city always helps businesses stay open."

Last summer, that help came in the form of the "Walkable Main Street" program where Edmonds shut down three blocks of downtown to cars on the weekends. The idea was to encourage more people to come to Edmonds, stay safe outdoors and visit local businesses, especially vulnerable restaurants.

Raptis said during that time his business doubled.

"That brought a lot of people, not only from Edmonds but from the broader area to downtown Edmonds," he said. "It helped us dramatically."

The city is planning to bring the Walkable Main Street program back this summer, but some business owners believe it's a bad idea.

"I did lose business. I know I lost business, especially on Saturdays," said Jenny Murphy, owner of Sound Styles clothing boutique.

Murphy said the program focused too much on restaurants and not enough on retail.

Opening up Main Street purely to pedestrians took people away from sidewalks and storefronts, so they were less likely to window shop.

RELATED: Edmonds students grades 3-12 won't return to classrooms this school year

It also took away dozens of coveted parking spots, forcing people to walk several blocks to get downtown.

Murphy said her customers simply stopped coming.

"My customers want to shop," said Murphy. "They need to have parking that's relatively close. It doesn't have to be right outside the front door, but it has to be relatively close. The restaurants have their 'streeteries' now. They are established, so there's no need for Walkable Main Street."

However, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson said public support for the program has been overwhelming. He believes closing off the street is good for everybody.

"It's been so successful," said Nelson. "Not only do we want it downtown, but we want to see how we can expand it to other parts of our city."

KING 5 asked Nelson if the city has been focusing too much on restaurants at the expense of retail stores.

"Restaurants are anchor institutions," said Nelson. "They bring people together here. They bring people to gather for breakfast, lunch and then they check out the shops."

Nelson said he plans to address the parking issue by asking nearby businesses that are closed on weekends to offer up their lots for customers to park.

Depending on how things go, Nelson is not ruling out deploying the program every summer for the foreseeable future.