December 29, 2009 in City

CdA bar owners say shootings have them wary

By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

Downtown Coeur d’Alene attracts holiday shoppers, as well as young bar and restaurant customers. The Iron Horse, on Sherman Avenue, is more carefully screening its customers as the city grapples with two recent shootings involving bar patrons.
(Full-size photo)

Young people partying and drinking in downtown Coeur d’Alene is nothing new; it’s been going on for years.

However, one change, several downtown business owners said Monday, is that now they’re seeing young people bring guns along for the night. An early Sunday shooting outside a downtown bar left two young men hospitalized, one fighting for his life. In May, a young man was shot and killed outside a downtown bar after arguing with another patron.

Some business owners were surprised to learn they knew the suspected shooter in Sunday’s incident. Adam Johnson, 25, owns a telecommunications company and belongs to the same civic organizations they do.

“How sad is that? Here is a young businessman … walking around with a gun at 1 o’clock in the morning. How would anyone predict that?” said Jim Elder, owner of Cricket’s bar and grill on Sherman Avenue. “The changing morals of our young people have introduced people carrying guns and things like that.”

Mayor Sandi Bloem, also a downtown business and property owner, said city leaders will consider the facts of the shooting and determine whether anything can or should be done to prevent a similar incident.

“I feel strongly that alcohol and firearms don’t mix,” she said. However, she added, “I think it’s important to remember we have thousands and thousands of people using the downtown throughout the year and they are safe. They enjoy the downtown and, for the most part, they get home safely.”

Bloem said she doesn’t want to underplay the seriousness of the incident but also doesn’t want to jump to conclusions until the facts are clear.

The young people who drink in downtown bars aren’t much different from those of years past – there are just more of them, said Tom Robb, 38-year owner of the Iron Horse bar and restaurant on Sherman Avenue. When the Iron Horse opened, he said, Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County had half the populations they have today.

“A lot of it is being careful with the screening of your customers and things like that,” Robb said. “One thing I’ve noticed generally out among the public is there’s a lot of anger out there for a lot of reasons, none of which pertains to the Coeur d’Alene downtown area. A lot of people are unemployed.”

Elder said over the past decade, Cricket’s has moved away from trying to attract the party-going younger crowd. Too many Monday mornings, he said, he entered his business to find holes in the walls or sliced-up vinyl in the booths. It was a hard decision, he said, because the younger crowd spends a lot of money.

“I finally said, ‘Enough,’ ” Elder said. “It isn’t that we turn them away. Young people come in, but they come in with a different attitude. When they’re looking for sanity, they order something to eat and they have a drink, and they’re great. When you create that atmosphere of activity with the hard rock and the music of today, it does create an intensity.”

He commended the Coeur d’Alene Police Department for “controlling the chaos of downtown” over the summer with stepped-up patrols. Elder said some people expressed frustration about increased police presence, but he was glad to see it.

“They really contained the downtown,” he said. “We didn’t have any major incidents.”

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