Downtown biz community ready to welcome the return of Procession

The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on everyone, but especially on downtown Olympia, as small business owners and their employees had to adapt to the new rules on the fly to stay in business.

Some companies survived, some companies didn’t, and some changed the way they do business forever. Some say the condition of downtown is about the same as it was before the pandemic, and others don’t.

“Downtown Olympia is suffering from the COVID-19 crisis,” Eric Pollard, co-owner of Radiance Herbs and Massage and the Kindred Moon Apothecary, said in an email to The Olympian last month. He could not be reached specifically for this story. “With government employees working from home and more people shopping online, our downtown is really suffering.”

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But despite their differing views on the state of downtown, downtown businesses and other business officials agree that the return of the iconic Procession of the Species on Saturday, April 27, is an important milestone for downtown and the community.

The Procession, initially a celebration of Earth Day, has become a thing in itself. Before COVID, it would draw thousands of spectators downtown to watch the costumed dancers, drummers and other participants carry and carry a variety of papier-mâché creatures and symbols that wiggle and wiggle as the procession makes its way along a winding route.

Richenda Richardson, owner and co-founder of Childhood’s End Gallery, which has been in business since 1971 and at its current Fourth Avenue location since 1978, called the Procession a “great catalyst” that brought hundreds, if not thousands, of people to Arts Walk, a biennial city event held the same weekend in April.

Richardson said the center is “much better off for it.” During Procession’s absence, which was largely due to the pandemic, its customers were constantly asking about it.

“There’s a sense of relief that it’s back,” she said, adding that its return speaks to a resilient organization that puts it on and a resilient community.

Janis Dean, who operates longtime Olympia gift shop Popinjay, said the Procession appeals to everyone, young or old.

“People are happy it’s coming back,” she said.

In an interview on April 18, 2024, Richenda Richardson, co-owner of Childhood’s End gallery, speaks about the direct impact the return of the Procession of the Species celebration has on the economic vitality of downtown Olympia. Steve Bloom The Olympian

‘Better than whole’

Mike Reid, economic development director for the city of Olympia, called the procession a “foundational piece” for downtown and said it sets the city’s downtown apart from so many others in the region.

“It’s something incredibly unique to the city of Olympia that cannot be replicated or duplicated,” he said. “It is our brand and its impact is immeasurable.”

As for the state of downtown, Reid is optimistic.

“I think downtown is very close to 2019 levels,” he said, adding that he came to that conclusion through the use of geofencing technology, which can examine pedestrian traffic through cell phone data, as well as the number of vacant storefronts covered in “brown butcher paper,” a sign that improvements are taking place inside for tenants.

One of those locations is the former King Solomon’s Reef on Fourth Avenue. The Olympian reported in January on the new initiative there, a shellfish restaurant, and while it’s hard to say what’s going on now, Reid said the “oyster guys” are moving forward with it.

Reid also pointed out that in the absence of the Procession, other events emerged over the years, such as Love Oly Summer Fest and South Sound Block Party. Throw in the procession and in some ways the community is “better than whole,” he said.

A trio of 20-foot-tall peacock chrysalises display their colors during the 2017 Procession of the Species celebration in downtown Olympia. Tony Overman [email protected]

‘Strike through life’

Annette Pitts, general manager of Experience Olympia & Beyond, the area’s visitors and convention bureau, will experience her first procession next week. She has led the organization for about three years and has learned that Procession is the “quintessential Olympia event.”

Without the Procession’s celebration of life, art and beauty, it feels like we have been “dragging through life,” she said.

Pitts said she plans to send a staff photographer to the Procession to “dig into the event.” Then they plan to learn more about where people came from and what they did while they were here, she said.

The Olympia area typically comes from a region about 50 miles away, Pitts said.

What can locals and visitors expect on Saturday? Economic Development Director Reid, who visited the Armory studio where some of the Processional Creatures are made, said he expected the fantastic.

“It will blow everyone’s mind,” he said.

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Rolf has been working at The Olympian since August 2005. He covers breaking news, the town of Lacey and business for the newspaper. Rolf graduated from Evergreen State College in 1990.