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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Chad White and Mark Starr: We’re showing up to Save the 509, but we need your help — and you

By Chad White and Mark Starr

A few weeks ago – maybe a month? What’s time anymore? – an idea started bubbling among restaurant owners. What can we do to ensure Spokane rebounds from the pandemic with a thriving small business community?

Put another way: How can we save everything we love about the 509? Within days, the Spokane Hospitality Coalition and our web site,, was launched. The coalition is a partnership of the City of Spokane, the Spokane Regional Health District and more than 60 restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

To join the coalition, we each signed a pledge to uphold dozens of additional cleaning and training standards. This is the reality for hospitality in the COVID era, and we would gladly add dozens more in a heartbeat if it meant we could welcome you back in full force.

Now, we’re asking for your help. Our hospitality businesses are in a race against time: Outdoor seating allows us to keep our doors open. But when the rain, cold, wind, snow and whatever else 2020 has to bring roll in, we lose outdoor seating. In order to seat our guests indoors – and stay afloat – we need to stop the spread of COVID. And to do that, we need your help.

We’re asking you to wear a mask, keep your physical distance, wash your hands and visit your favorite restaurants. Our regional economy depends on it.

That might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not: In a typical year, every dollar that restaurants earn, 96 cents goes right back into the local economy. It goes to our employees, farmers, suppliers, rent, utilities and taxes. This year, it’s more like for every dollar we bring in, 110 cents goes to the local economy – that’s because most of us operators are going into debt keeping our doors open. Either way, the region’s recovery is tied to restaurants’ recovery.

But there’s much more than numbers. Imagine Bloomsday with no place to grab brunch after. Or Hoopfest without pizza and pints. Or a stroll along the river without a locally roasted coffee. We serve more than food – we serve culture, comfort, joy and our community. When fires ripped through Malden, we showed up right after the front-line workers with pizza and $1,600 in gift cards donated by local restaurants.

If you love living in Zoomland, typing away while you eat stale PB&J and home-school your kids, then maybe this plea isn’t for you.

If you want to return to the thriving, fun, delicious Spokane we all love so dearly, please: Put on the mask, wash your hands and keep a bit of distance.

We know a great number of people are patiently waiting for the pandemic to go away so they can get life back to normal again. While we’re doing work and school and workouts from home, people are limiting their outings, looking forward to returning to their favorite bars and restaurants once this has passed.

Well, it’s time rethink that. Unless people get out now and regularly support our establishments, many won’t make it through the winter. In the state of Washington, we’ve already seen over 1,000 closures in our industry since March, according to data Yelp presented to the state Legislature in late September.

It’s important to note here that restaurants are not a leading cause of the spread of COVID, according to data from the state Department of Health. Our additional safety precautions are working. In fact, they’ve worked so well that we’re asking the state to allow us a little more capacity at tables and the ability to serve food and alcohol a little bit later. At this point, every little bit counts.

We’re showing up to Save the 509, and we’re asking you to keep showing up, too. The restaurants, bars, pizza places and fine dining establishments that are open need to have guests supporting them or soon might also find themselves shutting down for good. Now more than ever, we need the community’s support in order to continue to stay open.

With your help, we’ll be able to gather together again soon and celebrate properly.

Chef Chad White is the owner of Zona Blanca, High Tide Lobster and TT’s Old Iron Brewery & BBQ. Mark Starr owns and operates David’s Pizza.

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