Viking Fest’s vivid memories in downtown Poulsbo may become a distant memory if the current course of dissent continues. The event, which is entering its 40th year of celebrating Poulsbo’s rich Norwegian heritage and is the city’s largest annual get together, has run into opposition from downtown business owners who are tired of having their primary parking lot turned into a carnival — literally and figuratively. It is, after all, their lot and they should have a say in what goes on there as a result.
Parking problems have plagued downtown Poulsbo since atomic soup of the Big Bang first ladeled out the Milky Way, but should such woes be lumped in with an event that shuts down the lot for three days out the year or should they remain separate? The latter. They are two different issues and must be treated as such.
Whether or not the carnival stays or leaves the downtown corridor, parking will still be about as rare as pictures of Yul Brynner with a full head of hair the remaining 362 days a year. The carnival brings noise, a loss of parking and competition for businesses but it also completes the sense of family entertainment and fun that surrounds the entire event.
Viking Fest Corporation says the carnival is necessary to fund the rest of the celebration but no one outside the organization, city officials included, is privy to exactly how much it costs to put on. This isn’t due to a lack of trying, either.
Even so, it is just one of several of financial matters to ponder.
Suggestions to split and remove the carnival from the rest of the events downtown — which range from the annual road race and parade to a Viking Village and numerous events at Kvelstad Pavilion — are also being considered. Could Viking Fest follow Third of July’s model and shuttle visitors between the parade and downtown activities and sustain interest in the event as a whole? If so, how would event coordinators then bus the 30,000 or so visitors around town for three days?
Another point to consider is how removing the carnival from downtown would impact longtime fund-raisers like the Lions Pancake Breakfast, and civic and school related booths ranging from the Kiwanis to boosters clubs. How many families visit these side venues in the larger context of Viking Fest, sending the kids to the carnival rides down the street while mom and dad visit with friends over some of Herb Armstrong’s pancakes? Or is it a factor at all?
It’s difficult to say.
What is the fiscal impact on Front Street businesses, whose lifeblood — for many — flows in through tourism dollars?
The bottom line is that this isn’t a parking issue. This isn’t a business issue. It is, however, how Little Norway presents itself to thousands upon thousands of visitors each year.
Viking Fest invades downtown for one weekend each year. A single weekend. No longer having it pillage through Front Street as a unified event — one which is about as pedestrian friendly as it gets — could realistically impact visitors’ first impressions of the town as a whole. If parents take their children to the off-site carnival and the off-site carnival alone next year, they won’t then experience historic downtown Poulsbo at all.
And let’s face it, Front Street’s friendly business owners and Norwegian charm is what makes the town a destination spot for thousands — many of whom get their first taste of the city during its celebration of Syttende Mai.
All that said, there’s only one way to find how many do and that’s by yanking the carnival out of Anderson Parkway for a year and keeping a close record of not just the impact on the business community but the community as a whole. If this is the route Poulsbo wishes to take, it should do so with caution because big changes to such festivals don’t always go as planned.
Just a few years ago, Viking Fest took a self-imposed bath on a failed country/western concert. Now organizers are being asked to lather up again and split the event that, despite its tenure, could slip down the drain.
There are pluses and minuses to keeping the carnival downtown and moving elsewhere but the decision to do either must be based not on what is best for one special interest group or another but rather what is best for the community as a whole.