The Warrenton Town Council on Tuesday night unanimously agreed to cut back the hours Main Street is closed to traffic on weekends, hoping to keep Old Town walkable and vibrant, but also allow street parking during the day for shops that have seen sales drop with longer weekend street closures.
As of Aug. 12, Main Street from Culpeper Street to Third Street will close to traffic from 5 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. That is shorter than the current closures: 5 p.m. Fridays to early Sunday mornings. The new hours are likely to remain in place until cold weather drives most people indoors in the late fall.
The new hours are just fine with the manager of Warrenton Hobby Shoppe, which sells remote-control trucks and cars as well as games for children and adults. “It doesn’t interfere with our events,” Adam Thomas said. “You won’t get to play outside all day,” he said, referring to kids who have been racing their model cars on Main Street on Saturday afternoons. But, he added, “If it makes everybody else happy, we’re OK with it. It isn’t going to have much of an effect on us.”
The Hobby Shoppe’s weekend events, including the Saturday Night RC Drag Racing, will continue as usual, Thomas said. They start after Main Street closes.
Foot traffic, restaurant “parklets” that extend into parking spaces, and live music all help bring more people to Old Town, and that is a plus for merchants, said Brynn Murphy, manager at Britches Great Outdoors.
Britches is likely to extend its Friday and Saturday hours until 7 p.m. to take advantage of the influx of weekend customers, she said. “You get more foot traffic, and that helps,” she said.
The Hobby Shoppe and Britches are both located in the section of Main Street that has been closed to traffic on weekends.
Brandi Norrell is owner of Studio Luxe at 92 Main St. and Little Luxe, a “tweens” shop around the corner on 5th Street. Her businesses are outside the part of Main Street that is closed, but the lack of vehicle traffic has had a negative effect on her Saturday sales.
She is happy with the council’s decision. “I think it’s going to just make the town more accessible for everybody,” she said. “It does free up some parking during the day. It creates more walkability, and it creates movement throughout the town that might not normally be there with a barrier, so I think it’s a win-win solution.”
Joelle Fryman, executive director of Experience Old Town Warrenton, provided council members with data on how merchants have fared during Roll Out Warrenton, which began as a way to help businesses, especially restaurants, weather the worst of the COVID restrictions.
Restaurant owners by and large were happy with the closures and the parklets that expanded their businesses onto Main Street. However, some shops in Old Town did not see as much benefit. Just 36% performed better in May 2022 than in May 2021, Fryman told council members. The rest saw their sales worsen, with Saturdays showing the biggest drop in business.
Merchants saw year-over-year improvement in June, with 62.5% seeing business improve in 2022, said Fryman, who contacted virtually every non-restaurant business to help provide the town council with feedback on a way to move forward that would benefit all businesses.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, other Northern Virginia towns also allowed businesses to expand into parking spaces as a way to continue doing business during mandated restrictions and social distancing. Fryman suggested that council members look at how other communities in Northern Virginia are handling the transition to a post-COVID world.
She noted that in Old Town Alexandria, parklets that extend into street parking will remain, but the town will collect fees and require permits from restaurants that want to keep their parklets. She said she was not suggesting that Warrenton do the same, only that looking at what other towns do might provide ideas for Warrenton.
Council members agreed that finding a way to continue to grow businesses in Old Town was a priority. “Tourism is a growth opportunity, and we must continue to invest in that,” said Mayor Carter Nevill, who also owns a shop on Main Street. “It is a benefit to all of us.”
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