Editor’s note: Do you have an opinion on Cole Street being closed to traffic on the weekends? Write a Letter to the Editor to email@example.com.
The debate over the Cole Street closures continues.
In recent weeks, numerous businesses have become more outspoken against Enumclaw’s main drag being closed on weekends, while an informal poll distributed around downtown shows that the regular weekend shutdowns are highly popular among locals and visitors alike — or, at least those that frequent certain businesses.
The poll, which was only available as a physical copy, was passed around to businesses by Sean McDonald, owner of the Cole Street Brewery, last month in response to the growing discontent; the goal was to show city officials how popular the closures were among the general public. McDonald rents his business space from Sound Publishing, which owns the Courier-Herald.
According to the poll sheets, either provided to the Enumclaw City Council Community Services Committee, the full Council, or to the Courier-Herald directly, more than 600 people weighed in.
Roughly 90% those who signed the poll wanted Cole Street to continue to be closed on the weekend; the other 10% did not support the closures, at least in their current form.
Other poll sheets might not have been given to city officials or provided to the Courier-Herald for this tally.
McDonald said businesses that are part of the Enumclaw Business Collective, which organizes the street closures, have financially benefited, citing more sales when Cole Street is blocked off to traffic than when the street is open, especially shops that rely more on passersby than his bar does.
But some businesses say their bottom line has suffered because of the closures.
Diane Mills, owner of The Lee, said her regulars no longer eat at her restaurant on weekends in order to avoid the crowds. She added that while Cole Street should be closed for “meaningful” events, it should not close just to be closed.
Kara McKay, who runs Dick’s Barbershop, spoke at the Sept. 25 City Council meeting against the closures. She at first thought closing Cole Street would help her business, as she signed a 2022 letter to the council requesting Cole Street be closed on the west side of Griffin Avenue, but has now changed her mind.
“Fridays and Saturdays were our busiest days, and we’re down drastically on those two days,” she said. “I have many disabled people and elderly people that are not able to walk that far. I love the idea of the street being close for ambiance when we have events, even in the evening or Sundays on Cole… but all day Friday? All day Saturday? All day Sunday? For what?”
Like Mills, McKay said the closures don’t have to completely stop, “but maybe we can make it a little more sensible and adjust it so everyone can win.”
Cheryl Smith, who owns the Enumclaw Licensing Agency, said in a recent interview that she has lost a good chunk of her business because of these closures as well, adding that she reported a loss for the first time last year.
“I’ve had to let my part-time people go,” she said, adding that she no longer opens her business on the first and last Saturdays of the month because she was losing money.
Accessibility was also a huge issue for Smith.
“I service 300 disabled people a month,” she continued.
Jon Opland, owner of Allen’s Furniture, said that some of his clients have assumed the Cole Street closure extends past Myrtle Avenue in front of his store, which kept them from shopping there, affecting his revenue.
But Opland had other concerns as well.
First, he said the poll was not fairly distributed, and that he only received a copy on Sept. 14, putting him days behind collecting signatures; Smith said she never got one at all.
In response, McDonald said that the polls were distributed at an Enumclaw Business Owners Collecting meeting, “which is open to all to attend”, on Sept. 7, and that other copies were available at Enumclaw Stationers. Some poll data was given to city officials at the Sept. 18 Community Services Committee meeting, and more at the Sept. 25 City Council meeting.
McDonald said all polls were collected Sept. 28.
Second, Opland believes public property is being exploited to benefit some private businesses over others.
“I understand why those businesses want that extra operating space for themselves,” he wrote in a letter to the Community Services Committee, referring to Cole Street Brewery and various restaurants being able to set up extra tables on Cole Street during the closures. “Unfortunately, it negatively [affects] other businesses… I am amazed how the city has continued to allow select businesses the use of public streets to increase showroom/operating space helping their revenue while making it more difficult for customers to access other businesses on Cole St.”
Both Smith and Opland also made it clear they support the street being closed for “real” events, but that having it closed every weekend is a problem.
McDonald said consistency of closures is important for visitors and tourists, which is why the street is often closed even when no one is out shopping.
“We have an awful lot of out-of-towners that… plan their weekend to come visit us,” he said. “If they show up and those streets are open or it’s different than they were expecting… we lose some traction with getting those people to return.”
He clarified that the only time the street is not closed is when there is a weather advisory in affect for rain, snow, and wind (heat warnings have not been discussed by the Enumclaw Business Owners Collective yet).
Additionally, he said the Enumclaw Business Owners Collective is planning on changing up how Cole Street is closed in the future. People can expect January through March, for example, to see Cole Street mostly be open, with some exceptions for special events like on Valentine’s Day.
April and May, then, is expected to bring more closures than not on the weekend, followed by the street being closed every weekend June through September. Finally, October through December will still find the street mostly closed on the weekend, with some exceptions.
McDonald added that there is a plan in the works that could add disabled-only parking on Cole Street during the closures, but this has not been approved by the city as of yet.
According to Council member Thomas Sauvageau, who sits on the Community Services Committee, the council appears to be interested in better defining street closures and “special events” in the permit process, which could potentially limit how often Cole Street is closed.