In a post Saturday (July 16) in the Port Orchard Facebook group, Aaron James Hillard notes, “Apparently all it took was Pokémon to get downtown bustling again at 9:15 at night! Strange days.”
Hillard posted a photo, showing waterfront park fairly bustling (for Port Orchard) as the dusk settled in. That launched a lengthy conversation thread on Pokémon Go, the recently released, location-based augmented reality game that has reignited the phenomenon of the 20-year-old franchise in Kitsap County — and around the world.
“Was on the waterfront today and it was very cool to see so many diverse people all coming together,” said Donna Mathis Webb. “Yes, almost everyone there was staring at their phones, but it was still good to see them out and to see that some people even engaged in interacting with others who were, until that point, strangers. It made me feel really good inside. I kind of wish my phone was smart enough to play!”
Port Orchard could use a little boost, regardless of the source. The town is experiencing the summer doldrums due to partial closure of Highway 166 (one of two routes into downtown) for most of the summer due to culvert replacement work on Highway 16.
Both lanes were closed from June 13 until a week ago, when the project moved on to a new phase and the lane heading into town opened. The impact is still being felt. Businesses are hurting. One of our reporters who recently took the foot ferry from Bremerton to Port Orchard said, “It looks like a ghost town.”
I saw a number of Pokémon chasers as I biked through downtown yesterday. Their presence lent an almost festive atmosphere to the typically sleepy PO vibe.
“It’s easy to make fun of, but in this world of everyone worrying and being offended about everything, it’s nice to see people coming out of their homes and being active, interacting, and smiling and having a good time,” Aaron said. “Didn’t see one bottle of alcohol or smell one whiff of pot in the crowd of about a hundred people. Worse things could be happening. Hunt on hunters.”
Some people on the Facebook thread joked about players running into fences or other objects. I will say from my observations, Pokémon hunters are intent and most (apparently) not looking where they’re going. Like Donna, I don’t have the app on my phone, so I don’t know if you have a good sense of your surroundings while watching your screen for Pokémon or not. I was somewhat concerned for the folks walking casually on the side of a the road as I pedaled by. Would they suddenly lurch into my front wheel if Pikachu popped up in the middle of the road?
Later at a stop light, I crossed paths with a fellow bike rider, who said, “Watch out for those Pokémon players.” As he rode off up Sidney, he speculated aloud that there would be a serious accident or worse before the week is out. I certainly hope not, but seriously, folks, be careful out there.
Back to the conversation, Fred Chang, a city councilman who also plays Pokémon Go, suggested a virtual group for players.
“Now if they’d just all spend money in the shops on Bay Street….,” lamented Janet Karen.
What will it take for people focused on a virtual world to spend real cash in Port Orchard? Some people in the thread suggested business owners could capitalize on the craze by getting out on the street with munchies, beverages, cotton candy. To that, I’d add Band-Aids, Ace bandages, ice packs …
— Chris Henry, South Kitsap reporter