During any other time, the crowds that congregated on Cole Street last Friday night may have been considered business-as-normal.
But with Enumclaw’s main street looking more like a ghost town than a thriving businesses corridor since Gov. Jay Inslee’s ordered non-essential businesses closed and people to stay-at-home, it certainly was a sight to see.
Dana Wilcox, the organizer behind the May 9 “downtown cruise” event that brought hundreds out of their homes, said that “we were extremely overwhelmed with the number of people that came out and we appreciate most everybody behaving and being respectful of our town.”
Participants were asked to bring a food donation for the local food bank — the amount hasn’t been weighed, but Wilcox said “well over” 1,000 pounds of food was donated.
“I want to give the biggest shoutout ever to the Enumclaw Police Department, because they were awesome,” Wilcox continued, adding that if there’s another cruise event in the future, she’ll be speaking with them and the city about her plans.
Many downtown businesses appeared happy to have such a sudden swell of businesses, maybe especially restaurants that have recently re-opened for take-out or delivery like The Mint, Kelly’s Restaurant and Lounge, and The Local.
David Bozich, who owns and runs Enumclaw Music, had to close the shop mid-March due to the governor’s orders. Now that King County is in Phase 1 of re-opening the economy — which allows some non-essential businesses re-open, including retailers if they can organize curb-side pickup — he can open his doors again.
“We can’t afford to be out-of-business,” Bozich said, noting that his sales fell to just 25 percent of what there were in the first 12 weeks of 2020. “We’ll go out of business if we are not in business right now.”
Bozich said he isn’t a fan of Inslee’s order closing businesses and limiting groups. In fact, Enumclaw Music is allowing people inside the store despite Phase 1 recommendations, though shoppers are not allowed to touch or play the instruments like they usually could.
“We’re practicing all the things” recommended by the state, Bozich continued, pointing out the sign on the door clearly saying to stay six feet apart and to not touch anything, his mask, and the bottle of hand sanitizer right next to the door. “We’re all adults, aren’t we? I don’t want to be treated like I’m a kid. I’d like to be respected.”
Looking outside as a parade of motorcycles rumble by, he added, “This is the way it’s supposed to be.”
Amy Lundeen, who owns The Local, said seeing so many people coming out to support local businesses nearly made her cry.
“This makes me so happy,” she said. “Everybody is longing for some togetherness… I’m so blessed to live in a community like this.”
Other businesses owners weren’t so sure that these crowds were a good idea, given that it appeared few were wearing masks or attempting to social distance.
Mikey Williams, co-owner of Plateau Beer and Wine, didn’t expect the cruise event to be so large, and ended up live-streaming the event from a window.
“It’s hard to say” it’s safe, “because you don’t know how many of these people that are wandering around in groups are together,” he said. “Most of the people are in cars, staying apart that way. It is cool to see people out and about again.”
Enumclaw Mayor Jan Molinaro said in an email statement that “the support on display this past Friday for small businesses was overwhelming and I am sure the stores were very much in appreciation,” but he wants residents to keep following Inslee’s social distancing orders and continue to refrain from gathering together. “We ask every citizen to continue to follow these health guidelines.”
City Administrator Chris Searcy added that events like this “leaves city administration in a conflicted position.”
“What appeared to be a well-intentioned calling for Enumclaw residents to support our local businesses operating under Phase 1, ended up being an event — a gathering, if we’re being honest with ourselves — that attracted car enthusiasts from all over the Puget Sound region,” Searcy wrote in an email statement. “We complement our police department, and specifically those officers on duty Friday evening for their calm demeanor and focus on traditional public safety. Unfortunately, they had no ability to educate, and if necessary, enforce public ‘health’ safety on a crowd this size. Social distancing guidelines were violated in many cases and that is concerning.”
Searcy added that it’s clear from the “thank you” comments sent to the city council that Enumclaw residents felt this event was greatly needed, and “the emotional positivity expressed in those comments is truly heartwarming… However, we feel that based on this event, the community would be best served by saving the next Cruise Enumclaw event for the time in this public health emergency at which it is in compliance with Governor Inslee’s Safe Start Washington.”
The “cruise” was not a city-sanctioned event, said Enumclaw Police Chief Bob Huebler, and his department received several complaints about the lack of protective gear and social distancing, even though it was also clear to him the event went great “and lifted the spirits of many.”
“Throughout this process people are finding creative ways to relieve the pressure of the stress bubble our community has been living in. Grassroots efforts to support business, responsibly gather or find creative ways to recreate have been popping up all over the place, whether it be on social media or the like,” he wrote in an email statement. “While these events have good intentions at their root, people need to still follow social distancing guidelines to keep everyone safe and hopefully return our community to a way of life we are accustomed to. Attendees also need to remember that, although the basis of the grassroots event are positive, it does not negate the fact that laws still apply, whether it be traffic laws such as street-legal vehicles and safe driving, or laws related to the open alcohol containers and consumption of alcohol in public.”
Huebler added more than 1,500 total vehicles — from vintage cars to motorcycles, ATVs and tractors — and several horse riders were in attendance.
The May 9 event came on the heels of a King County Department of Health report that while the COVID-19 transmission rate dropped through March and April, it could once again be rising.
According to the DOH, “a previous report… found that the effective reproductive number—the number of new cases stemming from each COVID-19 infection—had dropped below the critical threshold of 1.0 in King County between March 29 and April 15. However, updated case and mortality data from the Washington Disease Reporting System revised that estimate upward, showing the reproductive number had no longer been falling and likely has been inching up again since roughly April 6.”
The health department said the best estimate for the current transmission rate in King County is somewhere between 0.47 and 1.32, (with the best estimate being at 0.89). For Western Washington in general, the best estimate is between 0.61 and 1.39 (best estimate 1.0).
“This report once again reminds us that our position is precarious and COVID-19 transmission and new cases remain unacceptably high,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “We need to double down on distancing and other prevention steps at home, in the community, and in workplaces and we must see these numbers improve before relaxing our current restrictions.”
CRUISE FOR EPILEPSY RESEARCH
The day after the downtown cruise, theThunder Dome Car hosted its own cruise that went around Enumclaw and then through Pierce County, raising money for epilepsy research. In total, the event raised more than $2,000, which was split with a lucky 50/50 raffle winner while others received Denny’s gift cards, Groits gift baskets, and Independence Day gift baskets.