An accepted truth began to blossom about this time last year: the COVID-19 pandemic’s toll was going to filter well into 2021 for all aspects of downtown Lee’s Summit.
Downtown Days was going to be in jeopardy. Shopping, dining and bar hopping would all look differently. Organizations and businesses that plan events downtown would be looking at shifting or altogether canceling such social activities.
Less music. Less liviliness. Far less energy than we have become accustomed to in our central business district.
On top of the shutdowns, mask mandates and general fright that has accompanied the pandemic, restaurants are now faced with near-crippling employee shortages and the prospect of long-term effects of higher wages — for better or worse — being a likely byproduct of staffing back up in a capitalistic economy.
Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street, our nonprofit organization that has for more than two decades taken the lead on events and promotion of the heart of Lee’s Summit, were forced (in some ways by county mandates) to cancel popular events such as Downtown Days and Music in the Park, both last year and into 2021.
As a past chair of Downtown Days, I can tell you such decisions are never given lightly, although their pain is ongoing as cases slow, mask mandates are lifted and life gets back to normal within the boundaries of downtown Lee’s Summit. You can’t put that “Downtown Days is canceled” genie back in the bottle in March or April, as the event is far too massive to plan in a month or two.
DLSMS may have been wise to seek a date later in the year, as other organizations have been forced to do. Logistically, it would have been a moving target. And late summer and fall tend to be times when seemingly every weekend is taken up with something (including the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce’s annual Oktoberfest, which is on for this September).
Fourth Friday Art Walk events are back on and likely will be a high draw for those looking to get back to some downtown normalcy this spring and summer. And the popular “ladies night out” event is scheduled for June 17. Both excellent signs of an increased downtown pulse.
In the spirit of what we “can” reasonably accommodate and pull off in our downtown, especially in the second half of 2021, the organization and its board (all of whom have personal and professional stakes in downtown and, like so many other nonprofit boards, volunteer their time and talents) should consider a few updates to the schedule.
- Bring back Music in the Park each Friday. Hyper-local bands and musicians are still clamoring for places to play. Setting a schedule from late-June through Labor Day would take minimal volunteer time and would be welcome by the hundreds of families that regularly attend these events, not to mention the signal it would show that downtown is opening back up.
- Plan an alley party this fall. Opening up our alleys, all of which have their own unique cool factors and entryways to local bars, restaurants and shopping, could turn a massive amount of people to downtown. Encourage live music, a few alley games, maybe some random gift cards handed out here and there and you have a recipe for a Saturday afternoon that could help registers ring, fill our decks and remind those that haven’t been in a while why downtown is such an integral part of Lee’s Summit.
- Encourage an “Art, Apps, Ale and Acquire” event in the second half of 2021. Aside from alleys and music, let’s encourage shopping in an event that could also feature downtown brews, $5 appetizer offerings from our restaurants and local artists on the streets creating in real time.
Foodie events. Family events. All events will be a welcome “change” as we round this corner in 2021. New downtown ideas are going to require volunteers and a financial commitment, too.
As the (past, past, past) past-president of DLSMS, I can tell you that any event, big or small, cannot be executed without some “yes” power, a little elbow grease and the gift of time.
Let’s start shouting, loudly, that downtown Lee’s Summit is back open.