Winslow fétes a fresh start
September 16, 2011 · Updated 8:19 AM
Donned in white with a picnic dinner in hand, hundreds of islanders gathered in the late-summer glow to rekindle the downtown community in a picturesque celebration.
It has been a long summer, especially for downtown merchants who had to fight for their customers through piles of dirt, bulldozers and delays from a city that promised the opening of Winslow Way by July 4 and delivered nearly two months late.
For husband and wife property owners Frank and Joann Burlingame it was a chance to honor their tenants, who survived the upheaval.
“My husband came home from the event and we both agreed that it was a celebration all small communities ought to have,” said Joann. “It is a neat way to help build community, and that’s what it should really be about, supporting the local community.”
Feel in the dark about this mysterious picnic? Part of the allure of the “Winslow in White” event was its element of spontaneity, advertised only through social media with little to no budget. The event, which fell on Sept. 11, was created by the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association and the Revitalization Partnership - a consulting group geared to creating vibrant downtown business corridors.
The directions were simple. Wear white, bring your own picnic and celebrate community. Winslow Way was closed to vehicles and tables were lined from the Christian Science Reading Room to the Madison Avenue intersection. At a cost of $125, attendees could purchase a “premium” table with eight chairs, floral arrangements and small gifts; a basic table could be reserved for $50, and anyone could reserve four general admission tickets at no cost.
The proceeds from the purchased tables paid for table and chair rental; barricades; set-up and clean-up crews; and the small tokens of flowers and chocolates for the premium tables. Three sponsors provided $500 each while the rest of the time and effort was donated by a small crew.
Within four days of the event announcement, Andrea Mackin, who helped orchestrate the event, said they were near capacity.
Modeled after the French “Diner en Blanc” when thousands of Parisians show up for a spontaneous feast in some of the city’s most public locations such as the Louvre and Notre Dame. One of the most celebrated elements of the event is its mystery and enchantment of surprise.
The dinner began in 1988 and has since grown to encompass thousands, but remains an event spread only through word-of-mouth among trusted friends. This year, New York city held its first Diner en Blanc
Mackin said her team saw the event as a way to celebrate a spirit of Bainbridge resilience and renewal. The event was cleared through the city with a special event permit.
Attendees brought individual celebrations to the table. The Burlingames, who purchased tables for 24 guests, chose to celebrate a hopeful new beginning for their Roby King Gallery, Sweet Deal and Bainbridge Homes tenants. They provided a dinner of mixed-green salad, salmon and vegetables from their garden.
“I don’t know if we could ever have a more perfect evening, but we hope it will become an annual event,” said Joann.
Bainbridge Bakers owner Michael Louden was impressed by the dazzling scene of white, and its boon to business. Local restaurateurs were invited to provide take-away fare to be advertised for attendees. Louden said his bakery sold about 80 meals.
“We appreciated the opportunity from the event creators, and it actually turned out to be a good thing commercially.”
Louden said he can gauge community buzz reverberating from the walls of his cafe, and said he's heard universally positive feedback, with some room for improvement next year.
Members of one online forum were resentful of feeling left out from an event with a closed guest list and a secretive nature that felt as if it was geared to a “targeted” group of community members.
Seats were intentionally left open for passers-by to join in, Mackin said, and she hopes this year’s event sets the table for an annual “Winslow in White” for the community to make its own.
The celebration of an open street is bitter sweet for some. For business owners such as Garin Pangburn and his wife Charisse, their boutique Possums couldn’t survive.
Their Winslow Mall shop, along with Oil and Water art supplies were victims of the black curtain and days of zero sales as the construction ensued.
“We tried to give it until July, when the city promised the street would reopen, but construction just kept going and we couldn’t hold on,” Pangburn said.
He said they expected the normal sales drop-off after the holidays, but summer tourist sales were needed to revive business. Unlike in the previous years of business, sales remained flat from January through August with just a slight uptick in the summer months, but not enough to break even.
Pangburn, who runs Possum shops in Poulsbo and Gig Harbor as well, tied the sales drop directly to construction. His other stores are functioning as healthy businesses in a poor economy, he said.
“Sure we would want to come back to the island, maybe next year, but after seeing how the city handled the construction it would be a hard pill to swallow.”
With the new sidewalks poured and cars traversing Winslow Way again, the stage for a downtown “revitalization” is set.
Larry Nakata, of Town and Country Market, thanked downtown supporters during his opening remarks at the event.
“True to the character of our island community,” he said, “no major business project occurs without lots of conversation and some degree of controversy. While many of the necessary changes have occurred underneath us, lots of good things have and will continue to occur at street level. Soon Winslow Way will be standing tall and is in a position to continue on as the heart and soul of Bainbridge.”
Mackin also said new beginnings are on the horizon with non-traditional businesses ready to take on existing real estate with unique ideas.
“We are ready to attract the long-term business that wants to be a part of revitalizing a healthy, vibrant downtown,” she said.