Organizers hope a fall festival will draw tourists to Commerce Avenue and generate enough revenue to hire a permanent employee to continue drawing people downtown.
A Longview nonprofit called Downtowners is hosting the Harvest Festival from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, October 22 in downtown Longview with the goal of showing visitors why they should visit downtown more often.
The festival was inspired by an event of the same name on the mid-2000s TV show “Parks and Recreation,” said Downtowners president Lindsey Cope (whose name sounds a bit like the sitcom’s protagonist , Leslie Knope).
People also read…
The festival is expected to include events such as a free concert by a country singer, a truck show, a pie contest, a children’s haunted house and a petting zoo with a pony named Li’l Sebastian, as in the spectacle.
The plan is not just to have fun, but to earn at least $20,000 through referrals to hire a permanent downtown employee to plan additional events to attract people to shops, restaurants and downtown sites. The annual event would continue to fund the employee, as well as possible grants, Cope said.
Cope said she worked to help bring people and businesses downtown as an employee of the Cowlitz Economic Development Council, an independent 501(c)4. Each county in Washington has a similar organization dedicated to local economic growth and is partially funded by the Washington State Department of Commerce.
For the past four years or so, Cope has led the Downtowners Board as an employee of the Cowlitz Economic Development Council, and the dedication of a paid staff member has paid off, said Brad Whittaker, owner of Realty ONE Pacific. Group, whose business is on Commerce Avenue.
Whittaker said he’s seen Downtown grow since he bought his nearly 100-year-old office building in 2018 and joined the new Downtowners’ highest membership tier at $2,500. per year, whereas it was previously $50.
“A vibrant downtown is so important,” he said.
Whittaker’s real estate company doesn’t necessarily take advantage of festival foot traffic the way a store would, he added, but people drawn to the city center could eventually buy property nearby and turn to it. He contributes to Downtowners for the “long game” and sees how other vibrant downtowns like Vancouver and Hood River “create an energy that makes people want to go there,” he said.
Whittaker said a permanent, dedicated staff member needs to lead the charge to develop downtown, not a volunteer with limited time.
Over the past four years, Cope said she’s helped add regular events like Small Business Saturday to draw shoppers downtown. Now at least twice as many regular members attend monthly Downtowners meetings.
The total group, Cope said, has grown from eight paid members at $25 a year around 2018 to $50 to $75 a year. Newer membership levels range from $100 to $2,500 and offer benefits such as being added to the Downtowners website, playing ads on local radio, and receiving an opening event or reopening with advertising.
Cope said mom and pop stores that primarily include downtown are not just dedicated to their businesses, but to the area, which helps create a sense of place that attracts additional businesses and residents.
“There’s something very charming about having such an active downtown area,” he said.