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Three Spokane Valley businesses reopening despite statewide stay-at-home order

Brandon Fenton, owner of the Black Diamond, is thanked by a patron as he rapidly makes drinks on Monday, May 18, 2020, at the bar, restaurant and billiard hall in Spokane Valley, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

At least three Spokane Valley businesses have reopened despite limitations outlined for restaurants under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order, saying it is their constitutional right to do so.

The Black Diamond reopened Friday with safety protocols in place at the bar, restaurant and billiard hall, owner Brandon Fenton said.

“We needed to reopen to be able to sustain our business. Then, also, there’s the aspect of our rights and being able to open and operate without any interference from the government when we aren’t doing anything wrong,” Fenton said, noting the number of COVID-19 cases has dropped in Spokane County since its onset in March.

The business at 9614 E. Sprague Ave. is sanitizing menus, tables amd chairs, as well as pool tables, sticks and balls, after each use and screening employees’ health at the beginning of each shift. It has also separated tables to ensure social distancing and cut capacity in half, Fenton said.

In a letter to patrons, the Black Diamond said it believes adults are in charge of their own safety and health, and provided a disclaimer to patrons, stating those who enter the business are acknowledging and assuming the risk of entering a social area with many people. It also encouraged patrons to maintain social distancing.

Restaurants, under Phase 2 of Gov. Inslee’s reopening plan, are permitted to operate at 50% capacity, which could potentially begin June 1. Bars are limited to 25% occupancy during Phase 3 of the plan.

Fenton said he called local and state officials, including the governor’s and attorney general’s offices, asking what would occur if he reopened and was not provided with an answer.

It could take several steps to resolve violations of the stay-at-home order by businesses, beginning with a warning from the state Department of Licensing, Mike Faulk, press secretary for Gov. Inslee, told The Spokesman-Review last week.

If a business remains open in violation of Inslee’s directive, the state could revoke its business license. If businesses continue to operate with a suspended license, they could face potential court action, Faulk said.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is enforcing the stay-at-home order but at the lowest level, which is by educating and working with businesses to remain compliant, said Cpl. Mark Gregory, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

Cole’s Coffee, at 3105 N. Pines Road, also reopened earlier this month.

Owner Brent Peterson, who recently spoke at a protest in opposition of the stay-at-home order, said it’s his constitutional right to have his business open.

Peterson closed the coffee shop in March when the statewide directive went into effect, but he chose to reopen because the curve of coronavirus cases in the county has dropped to “practically zero,” he said.

“We are not here to try to defy anybody,” he said. “I have employees that have to get paid so they can live their lives.”

Another reason for reopening Cole’s Coffee was to continue providing meals to elementary students through the Bite2Go program, Peterson said.

“If Cole’s Coffee is closed down because of the stay-at-home order, we would not be able to do that,” he said. “That’s another reason why we feel like we would like to be safe, but be open, so we can continue the program, so these kids don’t go hungry.”

Peterson said employees are wearing face masks and he’s installed plexiglass barriers and signs indicating six feet of social distancing space in the coffee shop.

The Iron Horse Bar & Grill, 11105 E. Sprague Ave., said in a Facebook post Monday it’s choosing to reopen based on a recommendation from Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz that Spokane County move to Phase 2 of Inslee’s reopening plan.

Lutz and Spokane County elected officials drafted a letter to Inslee asking for a variance to move the county to Phase 2. It was denied last week by Inslee because the state has not yet developed criteria for larger counties to request a variance.

“The governor of Washington state has never dictated to us how to run our businesses. If our leading health officials say its OK to move forward to Phase 2, we believe we are totally within our rights to do so,” Iron Horse said in the Facebook post. “Therefore, we are open and following Phase 2 protocol.”