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March 9, 2022

RollOutWarrenton! parklet program will continue in late April, but Town Council expected to continue making tweaks

Two women enjoy lunch during a parklet dining session in 2020.
James Jarvis
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The Warrenton Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to bring back its parklet program and resume weekend street closures in late April, but some business owners who spoke at the meeting said they were wary closures may have a negative impact on businesses past 3rd Street in Old Town Warrenton.

The initiative, dubbed “RollOutWarrenton!,” was introduced by the Town Council in early May 2020 as a way to help restaurants and shops recover from the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19 by allowing them to extend seating into the street and provide additional entertainment outside.

Overall, the program has been popular with business owners and people in and around the community who come out to eat, listen to live music and shop at the farmers market. But during the Town Council meeting Tuesday night, business owners who spoke were divided on how the program should be implemented. One business owner asked the Council to extend the street closures past 3rd Street.

Beginning April 22, Main Street in Old Town Warrenton – between Court and 3rd streets – will be closed to traffic continuously starting Friday at 4:30 p.m. until 7 a.m. Sunday.

These hours may change, however, something Town Council member Kevin Carter, representing Ward 5, alluded to as a possibility during the meeting.

“If we vote tonight, I know for a fact that we will continue to adjust,” he said.

Culpepper Street between Main Street and Hotel Street will also be closed, but two-way traffic will be allowed on Culpepper from Hotel to Lee.

The Warrenton Farmers Market will also move from the parking lot behind Town Hall onto Main Street.

There will be one officer on duty each day to assist with traffic. Public works staff will also be on site Saturday and Sunday to empty trash cans.

Jennifer Robinson, co-owner of the Denim & Pearl restaurant on Main Street, is a fan of the RollOutWarrenton! program.

Robinson told Council members their outdoor dining options contributed to 35 percent of their overall revenue. The parklets and weekend festivities also tend to bring more out-of-towners, something that serves as a boon for the town, advocates said.

“The sense of community that [RollOutWarrenton!] brings has been a great addition given what we have all been through the last couple of years,” Robinson said. “It brings people together. They love outdoor dining and live music.

“It also brings people to Warrenton,” she said. “We estimate about 50 percent of our guests are from outside Warrenton.”

But not all business owners on Main Street feel weekend closures are good for their bottom line.

Brandi Norrell, owner of Studio Luxe at 92 Main St. and Little Luxe on 9 S. 5th St., who also spoke at the meeting, said the physical barrier the town puts up on the weekends ends at 3rd Street, just before Studio Luxe. This is a problem, she said, because people see the traffic cones and generally don’t walk past them, believing there is nothing past the cones.

“If people do not have a purpose to come to your business past 3rd Street past the Friday and Saturday night closures, they don't,” she said. “So what happens is more often than not it pulls away from that end of the street.”

Norrell added she is supportive of the program but asked council members to consider amending the time of day the cones go up. Or rather than both days, she suggested, set the cones up either just on Friday or Saturday.

John McAuliffe, board chairman for Experience Old Town Warrenton, told Town Council members during the meeting that business owners in Old Town were divided on the issue of weekend closures. He said that after speaking with 26 different business owners on Main Street, 13 supported the closures while 12 did not.

“We have significant work to do to ensure that whatever we do is inclusive to everyone on 3rd through 5th street[s] and making sure that is taken into account,” he said.

Council members, including Carter, said they would take everyone’s comments about adjusting hours into consideration, but he did not give a hard deadline about a final decision.

“It's impossible to get consensus or any group of people to be perfectly in agreement with one another,” he said. “And I don't expect that to happen without taking some risks. We'll get there together with the cooperation of the organizations, the merchant group and individual business owners. Please be patient with us.”
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