Downtown lessons due south

Hopefully best practices elsewhere will prevail in Vernon.

Gary Cooper’s letter, More needs to be done, prompted this letter.  He rejects, as do I, Mr. Poole’s reasons for discounting the Moneysense story, in which Vernon placed in the bottom half.

One of Mr. Cooper’s points was Vernon’s downtown. The answer lies 405 kilometres south of Vernon.

During a brief, late-winter getaway to Wenatchee, Wash., I saw the similarity between the downtown areas of Vernon and Wenatchee. Target and Walmart were both located north of the old downtown. But that’s where the similarity ended.

Immediately evident was that not one storefront in the old downtown was empty.  No for lease, for sale or for rent signs.  The street was the same as Vernon’s, perhaps half again as long.

One single lane in each direction.  Angle parking on both sides for blocks and blocks. No curb jut-outs at corners preventing turns.

No five-minute waits for a traffic light to change to green. No parking meters.

A sign read: “Three hours free parking,” and only one bylaw officer was seen in four days, chalking tires to ensure people complied.  Their old trolleycars, retrofitted with tires, served as oft-running buses.

A 10 to 12-storey brick building, probably an old hotel, was festooned with a banner:  seniors’ housing.

Wenatchee’s downtown boasted restaurants, shoe stores, flower shops, sports equipment, furniture and rental shops. You name it, every imaginable business was downtown.

And busy. A hive of activity, sidewalks full of people walking, chatting and browsing in shops on that sunny day.

Noteworthy too was that the two parallel streets left and right of Wenatchee Avenue were one-way streets, four and five lanes of traffic (with no parking allowed during rush-hours), moving cars quickly and efficiently, one heading north, the other, south.

Their downtown is an award-winner. Wenatchee was nationally recognized as the 2003 National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Great American Main Street Award Winner

Not too shabby considering there are more than 1,600 communities vying for this award across the country each year.

Oh, and people were so courteous.

No one sped on either city streets or the highways. They went bang-on the speed limit.

But, no, I didn’t see a tourist booth north of the city.

It might’ve been hidden somewhere in the center of town.

Hopefully best practices elsewhere will prevail in Vernon.


Barb Mitchell