Parklets could be lifeline to sustain small town businesses

The pandemic has cost countless jobs across Western Washington and what’s worse, some of the small businesses forced to close may never return.

Those that did survive Governor Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home orders now must contend with strict new sanitation and social distancing requirements – not to mention having to convince would-be clients that re-opening is safe.

The city of Sumner is throwing small businesses a lifeline. Installed in the city’s core area is a pair of 'parklets', meant to not only look inviting for potential customers but also help local businesses thrive.

“If you want the business to survive you’ve got to find a way to support them,” said business owner Joleen Jones.

One of the biggest selling points of living and working in Sumner is the small-town charm of Main Street.

“It’s adding tremendous value and really, they’re really cute,” said Kristina Pearson, owner of My Sisters Big Shoes Boutique.

That hometown appeal is what’s at stake and the city hopes a pair of parklets could help save it.

“Keeping that three or four blocks alive, vibrant and fresh in people’s minds that they’re still in business, is critically important,” said city employee Ryan Windish.

Parklets have been in the works for years. They are tiny islands intended to carve out public spaces that once were occupied by parked cars. For about a week, the parklets in Sumner have offered people a place to connect while staying socially distant.

“This year we’re missing out of the car show and Rhubarb Days,” Tresa Maycumber, co-owner of Hometown Charm Café.

Maycumber said some customers are ready to get back to normal, but new health department guidelines meant her dining room’s capacity was slashed. The parklets are meant to encourage people to spend time on Main Street and shop local. The city has pushed hard to remind neighbors their dollars leave a larger impact where it counts.

“People attract people,” said Jones. “People want to stop and eat and when they’re stopping they’re shopping.

City crews constructed the two parklets in part to increase seating capacity for diners.

Even though Maycumber said business is down near 50% since last year, she hopes the parklets can help the café survive and keep the rest of Main Street from shuttering.

"I’m going to be real positive and hope that we have a really great September and maybe the first week of October,” she said.