Excellence on Main Award

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Walawála Plaza

Awardee: Downtown Walla Walla Foundation and the City of Walla Walla

Year: 2023

City: Walla Walla

The Excellence on Main Award—the top award at each year’s ceremony—is an annual accolade that recognizes outstanding projects and people that reflect an attitude of perseverance and dedication to community revitalization in Washington. Walawála Plaza was named the 2023 recipient of the Excellence on Main Award for the need it addressed, the stakeholders it brought together, and the overall impact it has had upon the downtown Walla Walla community.

When the pandemic closed businesses and made the outdoors the only safe place to socialize in the spring of 2020, Walla Walla was one of the fastest small towns in Washington, if not the nation, to adapt to the need for an outdoor gathering place that would also support suffering restaurants. In only 90 days, the City of Walla Walla and Downtown Walla Walla Foundation came together to close one block of First Avenue in order to create a visually appealing and functional plaza in the heart of downtown. This plaza kept commerce alive and people connected during those difficult days.

Even after businesses reopened, the plaza remained the liveliest block in Walla Walla, becoming the place to meet, host potlucks, conduct business meetings, and play board games. When City Council was deciding whether or not to make the plaza a permanent public fixture, they received 297 public comments—294 of them in favor of keeping the plaza.

With such clear support, the City set out to make the plaza permanent. They convened a group of stakeholders to design the plaza, including Main Street, local architects and business owners, and significant input from the local Tribes. Suggestions from the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute incorporated elements representing the site’s history as a gathering spot of the Cayuse and Walla Walla people. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation provided technical assistance and guidance on how to design the space to honor their people. The permanent space, completed in May 2023, is called Walawála Plaza, meaning “many small streams” in the indigenous Sahaptin language.

This project is so many things. It is a beautifully designed public space, a boon to businesses throughout the district, not to mention a visionary use of ARPA funds. But above all it is a testament to how much we humans need each other. This exact site has been a gathering place since immemorial. And now it is, once again, a place for people to gather.

Excellence on Main Award

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Great River Arts Festival

Awardee: Vancouver's Downtown Association and Local Boy Tatau

Award: Community Partnership

Year: 2023

City: Vancouver

The Community Partnership Award is an annual award that recognizes a Main Street program and partners who have demonstrated the highest and best degree of cooperation to benefit downtown revitalization efforts. This year, that award honored the collaboration between Vancouver’s Downtown Association (VDA) and local tattoo business Local Boy Tatau to produce the first-ever Great River Arts Festival in the fall of 2022.

The Great River Arts Festival aimed to foster a sense of unity and pride in the city’s cultural heritage by creating multicultural murals throughout downtown Vancouver. Local Boy Tatau engaged a diverse group of local and world-renowned artists, while the VDA garnered support from downtown property owners. Together, they carefully matched each artist with a specific wall space downtown, taking into account the artist’s style and the building’s unique features. They also rallied business and resident support to help cover projects costs and artist fees. Across seven weeks, more than 20 murals were painted across downtown Vancouver.

A project a widespread and meaningful as this one could not have occurred without the impressive partner model—including the VDA, Local Boy Tatau, property owners, business owners, and residents—that came together to produce the Great River Arts Festival.

Excellence on Main Award

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Tabatha Wiggins

Award: Entrepreneur of the Year

Year: 2023

City: Stevenson

The Entrepreneur of the Year Award is an annual award that recognizes the innovation, dedication, and entrepreneurial spirit of our state’s entrepreneurs and small businesses. Stevenson’s Tabatha Wiggins was named 2023 Entrepreneur of the Year for her hard work not only as a small business owner but in activating her community.

In 2014, Tabatha became co-owner of Walking Man Brewing, transitioning from crucial employee to co-owner when founder Bob Craig retired. Under Tabatha’s leadership, Walking Man built upon its foundation of award-winning beers and blossomed into one of Stevenson’s favorite gathering spots and a key employer in the community. But while the lower floor of the brewery building was bustling with activity, the upper floor—which is actually street level—was papered over, used as storage for forgotten equipment and dry goods.

Tabatha began cleaning up the space and hosting brewers’ dinners, pop-up events, and even weddings there, all while building out the framework for her dream retail shop with friend and business partner Robyn Legun. In 2022, Tabatha and Robyn opened Traverse PNW Market in the beautifully renovated upper floor, which represents their vision of a neighborhood mercantile in downtown Stevenson. Throughout her work with Walking Man Brewing and Traverse PNW Market, Tabatha has also served for six years on the Stevenson Downtown Association board of directors, including her current service as board president.

Tabatha is an exemplary Main Street leader who raises the bar while appreciating and celebrating that a little goes a long way.

Excellence on Main Award

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Russell Carlson

Award: Leadership on Main

Year: 2023

City: Selah

The Leadership on Main Award is an annual award that recognizes an individual who has shown extraordinary dedication to their local Main Street over a significant period of time. Russell Carlson has been named the recipient of the 2023 Leadership on Main Award for his longtime commitment to Selah.

Russ was appointed to Selah City Council eight years ago. As a city councilor, Russ has been able to help set policies and facilitate projects that make Selah a better place to live, start a business, and raise a family. Shortly after joining City Council, he asked to fill the vacant role as council liaison to the Selah Downtown Association (SDA) because he was drawn to the Main Street mission and wanted to help build a stronger relationship between the SDA and the city.

While his only responsibility as council liaison was to attend Selah Downtown Association board meetings, Russ went even further and joined all four of the board’s committees. Over the past seven years, he has maintained service on those committees, often the first to raise his hand to help. As a consistently reliable leader for the SDA, he shows up to help with the majority of downtown events, activities, and clean-up days. All told, Russ spends most of his waking hours giving back to his beloved Selah.

Russ cares deeply about his community and is always looking for ways to serve and lead. Selah is undoubtedly a better place thanks to Russ’ care and commitment.

Excellence on Main Award

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Ghost Signs, Awnings, and Facades

Awardee: Ritzville Downtown Development Association

Award: Outstanding Special Project

Year: 2023

City: Ritzville

The Outstanding Special Project Award is an annual award that recognizes great projects or activities that affect a downtown or neighborhood commercial district’s revitalization efforts. The Ritzville Downtown Development Association—which cut its place-saving teeth several years ago by restoring and operating the historic Ritz Theatre—has been named the 2023 Outstanding Special Project Award recipient for their work restoring facades, awnings, and ghost signs across downtown Ritzville. Altogether, the project encompassed the restoration of four building facades, installation of eight new cloth awnings, and repainting of 17 old advertising murals, otherwise known as “ghost signs.” Each ghost sign required research and brick restoration and is as historically accurate as possible.

Financing for the facades, awnings, and ghost signs was pooled from a mix of grants, private donations, in-kind contributions, building owner investment, and city tourism awards. The project was championed by Ritzville Downtown Development Association board members and local business owners John Rankin of Flying Arts Ranch and Linda Kubik of King Mercantile. Already the restoration efforts are bearing fruit for the community: while Ritzville continues to experience economic hardship, every building that has undergone these major renovations or upgrades is now occupied. The renovation of just one of these historic buildings led to a new business opening up downtown and led to that building’s owner buying two other buildings with plans to revitalize them. Upper-floor residential units have also been updated and occupied, with plans for more in the works.

With these building improvements, the Ritzville Downtown Development Association has actively and intentionally fostered a culture of pride and possibility. The community has recognized the improvements, and attitudes are shifting from discouragement to hope for the future of Ritzville, with downtown as its crown jewel.

Excellence on Main Award

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Rico’s Public House

Award: Legacy on Main

Year: 2023

City: Pullman

The Legacy on Main Award is an annual award that recognizes a small business that has stood the test of time and impacted generations of community members. Rico’s Public House in Pullman is the 2023 recipient of the award not only because of its longevity but also because of its unique place in the downtown community.

Originally opened in 1909, Rico’s Public House is the oldest retail business in Pullman. Over its 114-year history, Rico’s has been a consistent presence in downtown Pullman amidst not only changes in ownership but also waves of local and national change. What started as a men’s only club survived Prohibition and the Great Depression by selling milkshakes by the thousands before ultimately securing Pullman’s first beer and wine license in the 1930s. In 1947, Tony Talerico—whose regulars called him “Rico”—bought the club with a vision to turn it into a true public house. He added a women’s restroom and hired international graduate students’ wives to his staff, hoping to encourage the transition to an establishment that welcomed the whole community.

In 1980, Roger Johnson acquired the pub and changed the name to “Rico’s” to honor Tony. Roger continued to evolve the business in several ways, serving the first microbrews in Pullman and lobbying the city to allow outdoor seating in the early 2000s. Roger and his daughter, Tawny Szumlas, who now owns Rico’s, have embraced the entrepreneurial ethic of change and adaptation. They have also used the establishment to reinforce the friendliness of Pullman and its unique college town atmosphere.

“I think of Rico’s Smokehouse as the ‘Cheers’ of the Palouse,” noted Washington Main Street Director Breanne Durham at the Excellence on Main ceremony. “There is no limit to how long you can hang out at Rico’s. Professors, graduate students, families, and children—everyone gathers here.”

Excellence on Main Award

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Key City Public Theatre

Award: Bricks & Mortar Rehabilitation

Year: 2023

City: Port Townsend

The Outstanding Bricks and Mortar Rehabilitation Award is an annual award that recognizes building owners or projects that positively impact preservation efforts in their Main Street communities. The Key City Public Theatre, an anchor facility in Port Townsend’s creative economy, received the 2023 award in honor of their comprehensive facility remodel—critical upgrades for a space that is used by local organizations including the Port Townsend Film Festival, Port Townsend Main Street Program, Jefferson County Historical Society, the Production Alliance, and more.

As a first step to the remodel, Key City Public Theatre executive artistic director Denise Winter gained building owner Dave Williams’ support for the build-to-suit effort, negotiating a new long-term lease and a financial commitment of more than $50,000 in rent reduction. The Key City Public Theatre was similarly intentional in collaborating with the build team, preservation commission, local tradespeople, a robust list of private donors and charitable foundations, and other creative partners throughout the project.

The $610,000 renovation included: new energy-efficient heating and air conditioning (with UV air filtration), movable administrative offices and technical control booth to accommodate more theater seats, the replacement of existing theater seats (resulting in increased seating capacity), ADA-compliant safety upgrades, renovation of the lobby, updates to the dressing rooms and backstage areas, and more. More than 50 local contractors, businesses, and artisans were employed in the execution of this project, which largely occurred during the first two years of the pandemic.

As home to more than 200 performances, education programs, concerts, and festivals per year and in daily use by Port Townsend’s creative sector, this well-loved facility has received essential updates that will protect it for years to come.

Excellence on Main Award

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Lido Collective

Awardee: Mount Vernon Downtown Association

Award: Economic Vitality

Year: 2023

City: Mount Vernon

The Economic Vitality Award is an annual award that recognizes enhancement efforts that have improved the economic vitality of the district including job creation and retention, sales growth, and more. The Mount Vernon Downtown Association received the 2023 Economic Vitality Award in recognition of their work creating the Lido Collective retail space downtown to support local artists.

With the Tulip Festival Street Fair as their longstanding signature event and a five-year strategy centered around the arts, the Mount Vernon Downtown Association (MVDA) has close connections to the region’s artist community. They were acutely aware of how this economic sector was impacted by the pandemic and how dependent on seasonal events creative entrepreneurs are in the region. The MVDA believed they could serve both their arts entrepreneurs and their downtown retail environment by offering a brick-and-mortar outlet to expand artists’ revenue opportunities. When a prime retail space opened, MVDA executive director Ellen Gamson moved quickly, pitching the idea to her board, applying for a Nonprofit Community Recovery Grant, hastily persuading the building owner to support the idea.

After remodeling the space using grant funds and their own revenue, as well as key contributions from donors and volunteers, the MVDA opened the Lido Collective for business in April 2022, with 47 local artists’ works available for sale. Their consignment model enables artists to keep 60% of their sales, pay no fees for space, and have no staffing requirements (since the MVDA staffs the retail space). After 18 months in operation, the Lido Collective has created three jobs, prompted the opening of two new businesses nearby, and led to revenue generation for 60 local artists.

The Mount Vernon Downtown Association is truly leading the way in fostering a stronger and more resilient creative economy on Main Street.

Excellence on Main Award

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City Block Program

Awardee: Downtown Bellingham Partnership

Award: Organizational Excellence

Year: 2023

City: Bellingham

The Organizational Excellence Award is an annual award that recognizes excellence in building a strong downtown organization while achieving consensus and cooperation among stakeholder groups. The Downtown Bellingham Partnership (DBP) received the 2023 Organizational Excellence Award due to their efforts to engage downtown stakeholders through their City Block Program.

Born out of challenging post-pandemic conditions in downtown Bellingham, the City Block Program was launched in April 2022. DBP staff divided the downtown into districts, each represented by one DBP staff member and two business owners. These City Block leaders are responsible for engaging the business and property owners in their designated district—working together to care for shared spaces, organize advocacy efforts, and foster communication between participants, with the DBP, and with the city government. Through the program, new communication channels have been forged where there was previously frustration and disconnect.

District meetings typically have between 10 to 20 businesses owners and nonprofits in attendance. Each meeting starts with a reflection on the positive things they have noticed in the last month and might also include guest speakers or time to plan together. There have already been some positive tangible outcomes of the increased contact and communication, including collaboration on an advocacy campaign related to drug distribution issues, the launch of the Commercial Street Block Party series, and implementing alleyway improvements, just to name a few.

While still a new program for the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, the City Block Program is already fostering a culture of volunteerism, inclusivity, and community engagement, where the Main Street program isn’t working for—but rather with—the community to co-create downtown.

Excellence on Main Award

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Whale of a Sale

Awardee: Downtown Anacortes Alliance

Award: Outstanding Promotional Event

Year: 2023

City: Anacortes

The Outstanding Promotional Event Award is an annual award that recognizes creative and effective promotional campaigns that attract people to the downtown or neighborhood commercial district. The 2023 award goes to the Downtown Anacortes Alliance for breathing new life into and rallying community support around the local Whale of a Sale event.

Whale of a Sale was a sidewalk sale event started by a local merchant in downtown Anacortes 15 years ago, but over time, participation waned and recent attempts to revive it were met with little success. In 2023, local merchants called upon the Downtown Anacortes Alliance to host the event. While a new organization, the Downtown Anacortes Alliance saw the event’s potential and decided to take it on as their first-ever event, dedicating $700 for their general fund to pull it off on a shoestring.

Through their board-led Outreach and Promotions Committee, the Downtown Anacortes Alliance recruited business to participate; planned a live band, buskers, and maritime-themed kids’ activities; and coordinated volunteers to help support the event. They set a conservative goal of recruiting 10 businesses to participate—but recruitment efforts resulted in 33 participating merchants. Partner organizations such as the Anacortes Music Project got involved, and for the first time in the event’s history, restaurants joined in the fun by offering drink specials and outdoor dining options. Merchants complemented the Downtown Anacortes Alliance’s marketing campaign by offering their own blowout sales and promotions. On the day of the event, Anacortes’ streets were filled with local folks discovering new businesses and running into friends and neighbors downtown. (A pod of orcas even gave their blessing to the event, visiting the waterfront near downtown just two days before the launch!)

Many events are hosted in downtown Anacortes, but the Downtown Anacortes Alliance’s first event was unique. They were very intentional about focusing this event on Fidalgo Island locals and existing businesses. In their own words, Whale of a Sale ‘demonstrated the joy and power that we already have in our community.’