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Two Spokane Valley bars reopen in defiance of Inslee’s COVID-19 shutdown order

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 17, 2020

Brandon Fenton, owner of The Black Diamond, makes drinks May 18. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has suspended Fenton’s liquor license as of Wednesday.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Brandon Fenton, owner of The Black Diamond, makes drinks May 18. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has suspended Fenton’s liquor license as of Wednesday. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Thomas Clouse The Spokesman-Review

Two Spokane Valley bars have reopened for business in violation of Gov. Jay Inslee’s November order that businesses shut down inside dining as a result of spiking coronavirus cases across Washington.

The Black Diamond, 9614 E. Sprague Ave., which was cited for remaining open in violation of Inslee’s previous shutdown in May, and Stormin’ Norman’s Shipfaced Saloon have reopened and their owners have posted lengthy statements explaining why they are willing to suffer potential state action to violate Inslee’s order.

“We ask all businesses that have been restricted by the mandates of a tyrant to stand and open with us,” read the statement posted Tuesday on The Black Diamond’s Facebook page. “Together we are powerful. We hope that as we follow those that have already stood up for what is right that it will create a spark to light the fire we need to make a difference.”

Stormin’ Norman’s owner Carrie Thomson joined The Black Diamond with a similar statement posted Wednesday on Facebook. As of Thursday afternoon, Stormin’ Norman’s, 12303 E. Trent Ave., was open, said an employee who answered the phone.

“Inslee is doing what he thinks is best, and it’s time that I do the same,” Thomson wrote. “Please, use your best judgment regarding your own personal safety and the safety of those around you, but also, please do, safely, and at your own risk, join us when you are ready.”

Julie Graham, spokeswoman for the Washington state Liquor and Cannabis Board, said The Black Diamond has previously received three verbal warnings and two formal citations for “COVID-19 related violations.” She noted that state liquor board officers are charged with making sure all businesses comply with state laws.

“If the premises is now found to be open for on-premises consumption and in violation of COVID restrictions, we could pursue an emergency suspension of their liquor license due to the protection and preservation of public health and safety,” Graham said. “We know these have been very difficult times for businesses and we appreciate the vast majority of businesses who’ve chosen to follow the state’s laws.”

Efforts to reach Black Diamond owner Brandon Fenton were unsuccessful Thursday.

In the online statements, both owners noted their defiance had more to do with supporting their employees than openly violating Inslee’s order.

“We the owners of The Black Diamond know that we will be facing a possible citation and suspension of our liquor license,” the post stated. “But at this point we would rather get this citation and fight it so that our employees can make a living. We want them to have a happy and stress-free holiday season.”

Thomson wrote about how her employees have been able to purchase homes and improve their lives.

“I have watched them bend over backward for me, for us,” she wrote, referring to her husband and co-owner, Norman Thomson. “And it is time I bent over backward for them.”

She noted she believes Inslee has the people’s best interest at heart and that she does not consider herself a “political person.”

“Now that I have 15 other people’s livelihoods in my hands,” she wrote, “I realize that I can’t just ‘peacefully’ sit by.”

In a brief interview, Thomson said she wanted to make sure patrons know that she will continue to follow other protocols, such as wearing masks, sanitizing and social distancing.

While the bar has remained open for outside dining, she doesn’t plan to offer in-house dining until Dec. 26. As of Thursday, she had not heard from state agents, she said.

“It’s not like we are opening up with no regard for COVID,” she said. “I just can’t let my employees go on like this.”

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