Bunny fever grips Langley stores, ready to hop on fame

Jennifer Krouse arranges some stuffed animal rabbits in her shop

Bunny fever has gripped Langley’s stores, and now the merchants are coordinating a new event in honor of the little critters bounding around town.

The floppy eared, cuddly rabbits arguably overpopulating the city and dividing its residents as to how they should be treated or managed are now the mascot and raison d’etre behind Bunny Daze. Created by the Langley Main Street Association as an event, it came about as naturally as the rabbits themselves, which is to say it sort of sprang up and was suddenly noticed by people in town. Starting March 21 and concluding March 26, Bunny Daze is a loose organization of a “shop hop” to drive retail business in the city’s downtown business core.

Hop scotch blocks will be taped onto the sidewalks for a bit of bunny-like bounding, stuffed animal rabbits will be hidden around downtown, and of course there’s shopping. What it’s really doing is bringing together what was organically happening at the shops, where they were already offering bunny-themed art, chocolate, shirts, glasses and drinks. Now there’s a name for it all: Bunny Daze.

“Because of all the bunny issues in town, the stores have gotten behind it and have all kinds of bunny things,” Langley Main Street Association Program Coordinator Lorinda Kay said. “There are paintings and sculptures and T-shirts and stuffed bunnies and bunny books. What better thing to do than promote that as well?”

The Village by the Sea has capitalized on other animals for economic success before. With regular gray whale visits just offshore, the city already has a Whale Day Parade in April that draws hundreds to march through the street and bestow a blessing upon the whales, whether or not they show up in Saratoga Passage that day or not.

“We’re in bunny fever here, that’s for sure,” Kay said. Ben Watanabe / The Record | Sweet Mona’s Chocolate Boutique on Second Street is littered with bunny-themed sweets, like this solid bunny with hand-piped chocolate writing. There are also bunny-shaped truffles, bunny ears and sugar eggs.

A booming domestic rabbit population in Langley gained national headlines this past year. The city, South Whidbey School District and county fairgrounds representatives grappled with the challenge presented by rabbits. At first, they hoped to just have them eliminated and killed, but pushback from people asking for a “compassionate response” to the animals resulted in the three agencies pursuing non-lethal options. For now, the prevailing idea is to flush them out of their warrens and dens, make them less suitable for living by closing them off or marking them with ferret musk, and closing off access to suitable habitat such as under decks or homes.

Major TV networks and news websites reported on the furry critters damaging lawns and tunneling under play fields, after several stories about the topic were published in The Record. All that attention led visitors to ask locals and merchants, “Where are the bunnies?”

“It is now the No. 1 question asked at the chamber, ‘Where can I find the rabbits,’ ” Mayor Tim Callison said.

At Sassy Siren on First Street, owner Jennifer Krouse said she entertains several questions from visitors about the rabbits. What’s with the bunnies? What’s going on with all the bunnies? She’s happy to say what she knows, that they’re mostly domestic, likely sprang up after rabbits got loose from the fair’s animal scramble and that the city isn’t interested in killing them. But when it comes to her own opinion, she’s happy to stay as quiet as a bunny.

“I just plead the fifth,” she said.

Business owners see it as hopefully another draw during the slow winter months. Between May and September, things are just fine in Langley, Krouse said. But there are times after the holiday rush in December and January when she averages only five visitors a day. Some days, she will not record a single sale.

“The thing that really draws people into the town is events,” she said.

“Mystery weekend has saved me,” she added.

For a while, stores have offered bunny-themed wares — candies at Sweet Mona’s Chocolate Boutique, T-shirts at Wish, chocolates at the former P.S. Suisse — but now it’s a coordinated effort with a capstone event, a mayoral proclamation. Just what Callison will say was still being ferreted (or, perhaps, rabbited) out. But he confirmed that his involvement is not a tipping of the hand one way or the other with regard to the city’s stance on the rabbits, which were once being considered for lethal means of culling the population.

“I don’t think there’s any big call to eliminate them at this point,” Callison said. “People are reconciling to them.”