Downtown Gig Harbor is populated with thriving boutiques, art galleries and restaurants – all the makings of a successful tourist town.
On most days the sidewalks are full of walkers – some with dogs, some with kids, many carrying shopping bags from local businesses.
Gig Harbor’s downtown runs along a gentle waterfront and is the point of origin for this small fishing village turned South Sound bedroom community.
“Our downtown is so nice because it’s so walkable,” said Monica Brickman, owner of Monica’s Chocolat Box on Harborview Drive.
Gig Harbor residents have fought hard to ensure that the historic feel of the downtown area remains. That means no chain stores and no big box retailers.
It has worked. Most of the businesses along Harborview are locally owned.
Gig Harbor Mayor Gretchen Wilbert said that more than a decade ago the city and residents decided to create guidelines for development that ensured the small businesses and touristy shops stayed.
“We also created many waterfront parks and pedestrian networks,” she said. “That encourages residents to go down to eat and the families to use the waterfront.”
One of the biggest problems this small waterfront core has is not enough parking spaces to meet the needs of everyone who wants to partake in the area’s charms.
Some shops have a handful of dedicated parking spots, but most visitors rely on the on-street parking. And it’s common to see a car drive around the downtown area a couple of times before finding parking.
But there’s no room for parking garages, and no one wants to give up precious downtown real estate for parking lots.
Many shoppers who browse the networks of retail businesses in the area come from outside Gig Harbor.
Some of the business owners have a sense that Gig Harbor residents don’t visit as often as they would expect.
Brickman, who makes her own chocolates in her shop – including a hazelnut concoction called “Too Good For Words” – sees regular customers from the surrounding neighborhoods but would like more.
“It’s not until they have out-of-town guests that they realize how nice it is down here,” she said.
Wilbert agrees. But she thinks some of the responsibility falls on the shop owners.
“I have tried to encourage the downtown business people to stay open at night,” she said. “That’s when the residents have time to visit. They have to invite them down.”
Linda Gair, co-founder of the Waterfront Retail Association and owner of The Keeping Room, said one of the biggest things the city did to encourage more residents to come down to the area was to create Skansie Brothers Park on the waterfront.
The park opened three years ago. This year it is home to Summer Sounds, a summerlong concert series. The event has been very popular, Gair said, with thousands attending the Tuesday night concerts.
Last November voters approved a $3.5 million bond issue to purchase the 84-year-old Eddon Boatworks and adjacent properties for a waterfront park and boardwalk as well as restoration of the boatyard for use as an educational and historical center.
The boatyard sits along Harborview Drive in downtown, looking out onto Gig Harbor Bay.
And on many days, visitors are seen using waterfront picnic tables and lawns for lunch or to watch the boats coming in and out of the marinas.
Population in 2002: 6,581
Median household income: $43,456 (2000)
Median home price: $311,860
Editor’s Note: The News Tribune Work & Money Team is preparing a series of profiles describing the character – and health – of business in the small towns of Pierce County. Each Tuesday this summer we’ll feature another Small Town Downtown.
Marcelene Edwards: firstname.lastname@example.org