Nearly 40 members of Enumclaw’s municipal and business community met last week to discuss how they can keep their city’s economy going under new mandated COVID-19 restrictions that began Friday, July 31.
While discussions are far from over, one thing was made clear during the early morning get-together at Headworks Brewery: no one solution is going to cut it if Enumclaw’s restaurants and retailers are going to make it through the rest of 2020.
A quick poll of the room showed nearly all the business owners in attendance believed they could make it through September if things stayed the way they are, but less than half said they would be able to stay open to see spring.
That being the case, said Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce CEO Troy Couch, some rule bending — or breaking — may have to take place.
“As far the Chamber’s stance is, if you guys feel like you need to stay open when you’re being told not to stay open, then stay open,” he said. “I would rather you stay open and stay alive than close and die. Our goal is to keep our businesses going. You’re not going to have someone come down from myself and the city… to tell you that you’re not following the rules and that you need to [close]. We’re leaving you alone. The police are leaving you alone.”
Though Couch doesn’t speak for the city, city officials that were attending — including Mayor Jan Molinaro, City Administrator Chris Searcy, Councilman Chance La Fleur, and several other city officials — either declined to voice an opposing opinion or spoke in favor of this tact.
Couch also encouraged businesses to follow mask and social distancing mandates in order to help customers and shoppers feel safe in their establishments.
There was some good news established at the meeting; several restaurant owners said the tents that have been placed outside their venues have helped tremendously in regard to allowing more people to be served and skirting Gov. Jay Inslee’s capacity cap.
Because of this, tent rentals — which are being footed by the city — have been extended through September. However, the city is using CARES Act revenue to fund these rentals, and after it took care of its own needs (PPE costs, tech equipment to keep the city running, paid sick and family leave, etc.), only about $50,000 to $60,000 of the allotted $366,000 remains, and it’s unclear how far that will stretch in terms of local economy aid.
Sundays on Cole has also been a boon, or at least a lifeline, to local businesses; David Bozich of Enumclaw Music said his sales double thanks to the weekly event, and other retailers notice that when local restaurants are filled, they see an increase in sales as well.
Couch agreed with that conclusion: “We recognize that our economy in town lynchpins on those restaurants. They bring a lot of people in town, so that’s why we try to do everything we can to make them survive.”
Given this, Sundays on Cole may be extended through September as well, but some other business owners worry that the support they’ve been seeing will evaporate before then, since there are fewer vendors and no live entertainment.
Another hurdle to keeping Sundays on Cole going every week is the effort it takes to set it up and take it down — it’s “a lot of stinking work,” La Fleur said.
But as they say, many hands make light work, and anyone wishing to volunteer their services to keep the event going can talk to the Chamber or Melissa Oglesbee, owner of Nothing Fancy on Cole Street.
Some businesses say the monthly “cruises” through downtown Enumclaw also help a little, though Sean McDonald of Cole Street Brewery said in an earlier interview that the sudden onslaught of crowds — even if planned — are hard to deal with, since he’s the only employee running not just the taps, but ordering and delivering food from other restaurants to his customers.
If he had a choice, it would be far better to have slow-but-steady business, he continued.
Other ideas are being floated as well, like trying to get a social-distance beer garden going to allow people to drink their “to-go” alcoholic beverages in public, or set up a holiday market with tents and portable heaters when the weather starts to turn.
More ideas will be discussed at future meetings, which are open to both the business community and local residents. The next meeting is scheduled for 8:30 on Aug. 13 at Headworks Brewery.