Getting looped: Downtown merchants call for alternative tourism flow
By SETH TRUSCOTT
Snoqualmie Valley Record Editor
July 12, 2012 · Updated 8:47 AM
When it comes to her big idea, Wendy Thomas is eager to keep things positive. That explains the hula hoops.
Thomas, as owner of Carmichael’s True Value Hardware Store, has been a presence in downtown Snoqualmie for 10 years. In that time, she’s watched the tourist traffic flowing through her neighborhood ebb with the times.
She wants to reverse that with a new tourism traffic route linking downtown, the Ridge and Interstate 90's Exit 27—a loop, hence the hoop, a prop for her route argument.
The prop seems apt. Two years ago, Thomas broke out stop signs and hard hats in the spring of 2010, gathering downtown business owners for a “Stop in Snoqualmie” photo opp just prior to the Downtown Infrastructure Improvement Project that put new sidewalks and utilities in the downtown block. In the two years since, she’s pondered how else to promote her neighborhood.
This spring, Thomas began calling for the city’s official tourist-attraction signs to be moved from Interstate 90’s Exit 25 to 27.
North Bend Way and Meadowbrook Way would become the gateway to Snoqualmie for interstate drivers, who would be directed to leave via Snoqualmie Ridge and Exit 25.
“Traffic is an asset,” says Thomas. “If you bring them in by 25, they leave by 25. They never get to downtown.
“You’re not showing them the eye candy—all the wonderful things we have here,” she added. “You’ve got to show them! You’re not utilizing that traffic to its highest and best use: to expose the most amount of your city.”
Thomas has authored an open letter, “Let’s get Looped,” signed by 30 merchants, property owners and residents, mostly from downtown but including several from the Ridge, making the case for a new tourism loop route (read it here). She’s shown it to Snoqualmie’s seven-member Economic Development Commission and the Ridge Merchants Association, and presented it to the city. It’s now up for discussion by the city council’s Community and Economic Affairs Committee.
“This is potentially a feel-good moment for the town,” Thomas said.
The way it used to be
Thomas remembers when the Snoqualmie Parkway became the de facto gateway for visitors to Snoqualmie Falls, circa 2003.
“It was a huge change,” she said.
Harold Nesland, owner of Sahara Pizza and Adventure Bowl, agrees.
“This town has been good to me,” Nesland says. But he remembers a much busier time for his business, and those of his neighbors.
Before the visitor route changed, “On Saturdays and Sundays, this road used to stop,” said Nesland, gesturing to Railroad Avenue. “There were so many people.” Every parking stall was full, he recalled.
“The second they re-routed that… One day there was traffic, the next there wasn’t…. Just like a light switch,” he said. “I used to have people ask me where the Falls was. Nobody does that any more.”
The city’s blue direction-finding signs, he says, don’t do the downtown justice.
“You’ve got to get the traffic back,” he said.
Nesland said his sales more than halved following the re-route. He had 24 employees in Snoqualmie then, 14 now.
To Nesland, traffic could mean more jobs and a better community presence for his business.
“When I do better, I spread the wealth,” he said. “I sponsor teams, I give more pizza to DECA. I’m more active in the community.” His employees, in turn, would be spending money locally.
“If I was doing 60 percent more, my building would look different. I would remodel,” Nesland said. “Most of these businesses would have the money to make tenant improvements.”
To Nesland and Thomas, it’s a matter of appealing to tourists.
“Do you want them to stay for six hours, or 15 minutes?” asked Nesland.
“You’ve got ‘look and leave,’ or you’ve got the loop,” Thomas added.
There’s no question that a loop route would be positive for downtown, said Wes Sorstokke, owner of Snoqualmie Falls Candy Factory.
“I’m for it. I signed the letter,” Sorstokke said. “It would definitely help us. I’m not sure it would hurt anyone else.”
Thomas said she’s been pondering the idea of a loop route for a few years.
“I don’t know why I didn’t think of it a bit sooner,” the hardware store owner said. “Probably because I sell plungers.”
Thomas says she recognizes that growing downtown’s economic vitality is a longtime city objective.
“Maybe it’s as simple as ‘Drive people through downtown,” she said.
In a statement, Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson said the city would like to see Snoqualmie’s wider business community work together on marketing that would increase traffic flow through every district.
“Therefore, we appreciate the efforts of those business owners who are attempting to create a community conversation that would ultimately benefit all of them,” Larson said. “As the City, we are intent on serving all districts equally, and of course interested in ensuring that visitors to the area find the most convenient ways into and out of our city so as not to frustrate them and possibly prevent them from returning.”
Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kevin Dwyer told the Record that the loop sounds like a good idea.
One challenge could be state highway division approval.
“We’re living in an age when people are using… their iPhone, Google Maps, Mapquest,” he said. Digital directions could complicate things.
But “the concept of having a loop makes some sense to get exposure for our great tourism assets,” Dwyer said.
The chamber applied for $6,500 in Lodging Tax Advisory Committee grant funds to put a manned visitor kiosk at Snoqualmie Falls. There, a docent would direct visitors to attractions in the wider Valley.
“We think that’s going to help with some of her concerns,” Dwyer said of Thomas.
Contact Snoqualmie Valley Record Editor Seth Truscott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-425-888-2311.