By Kara C. Rodriguez
A one-block closure of King Street during monthly First Friday events looks to become a permanent change to the popular Leesburg tradition.
On Tuesday night, the council voted to fund the $2,000 per event cost of closing King Street between Loudoun and Market streets during First Friday events. The closure would be in effect from 6:30 to 10 p.m. those evenings, the first Friday of most months, and the funds will pay for additional staffing costs required to man the event.
Closing King Street during First Friday was first tested out last summer in an initiative called Stroll the Streets led by 27 South owner Nick McCarter. McCarter footed the bill for the first event and was also supported by community donations in the ensuing months. The event was wildly popular, with community members filling King Street to enjoy local music, street performers, and other activities.
First Friday has been on hiatus since mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic made landfall in the U.S. and social distancing practices became the new norm. The event looks to be on ice until the commonwealth moves into a reopening phase that permits large gatherings.
The monthly event started off as a Gallery Walk organized by downtown business owners to encourage residents to enjoy the local art galleries and shops, with many opening up their doors to musicians or for wine or food tastings. Over the years, it has morphed into a major community draw, with packed sidewalks and streets, robust restaurant business, and high sales nights, even for those businesses beyond the King Street core.
The council unanimously voted to take over financial responsibility for the monthly event, authorizing any event this calendar year to be paid for via the CARES Act federal stimulus legislation funding received by the town. As all CARES funding must be used by year’s end, Town Manager Kaj Dentler said beginning in January and continuing indefinitely, the street closure costs will be paid out of the General Fund.