While town and city councils can choose to waive the governor’s restrictions for their signature events, many councils in the state have not done so.
Walkin’ On Main, an annual event held in Cottonwood’s Old Town to boost local businesses, was the latest casualty when the Cottonwood City Council failed to move forward on a motion to approve street closures for the event at an Oct. 6 meeting.
Cottonwood Parks and Recreation staff had hoped that with virus spread declining in the Verde Valley since the early summer, the event could be held on Saturday, Nov. 14, with some increased precautions.
“One of the biggest considerations for us is the group sizes of 50 and making sure we can spread those groups throughout town as best as we can,” Parks and Recreation Manager Jak Teel told the council at the meeting. “One of the biggest things we really want to focus on is keeping it regional. We don’t want to draw a huge crowd from outside areas, so we’re going to be focusing on local marketing only.”
Parks and Recreation gave council recommendations of changes to the event, including no wine garden on Main Street but the opportunity to buy glasses and get redeemed at wineries on the street; no big artist tent in the street, but artists could sell at the Club House; no main stage, but music in different locations with a larger concert in the park to close the event; relocating the car show to utilize more of the Gateway Parking Lot to encourage physical distancing; and spreading out the vendors more.
Teel told council that the event would still likely have more than 1,000 attendees. Despite the precautions, council did not move forward with approving the street closures for the event.
“I just see this as being blatant hypocrisy,” Vice Mayor Michael Mathews said. “If we think that this pandemic is enough to where we’ve got to have a local mandate, I don’t see how we can reconcile that. If it’s that dangerous and people are going to risk death by getting together …. I don’t know how we can have that on one hand and be talking about events on the other. I just can’t reconcile the two. We need to eliminate one, or we need to eliminate the other — and I’m in favor of the events.”
Others on the council expressed concern about the event and its potential to spread the virus.
“I’m concerned that we’re going to have a large crowd,” Councilman Doug Hulse said. “They’re supposed to wear masks. We have no real way to enforce people wearing masks.”
Mayor Tim Elinski ordered a city- wide mask mandate in June over the objections of council, but did not include any penalty with his order. Last week, Elinski attended the grand opening of a new brewery in Old Town and was standing in a crowd not wearing a mask in a video posted to social media.
“We’ve canceled every other event because of this and I just feel like we maybe need to go along the same guidelines rather than put people in jeopardy,” Hulse said. “We’re hearing on the news that the second wave is on its way, it’s coming. By next month it’s probably going to be here if it’s coming. I’m not sure what the results are going to be for us, but I think it would be a negative influence if people were to get infected.”
Councilwoman Tosca Henry made a motion in favor of approving the street closure, which did not receive a
second motion, effectively ending the plan before it even came to a vote.
Business owners in Old Town expressed mixed feelings on the decision.
“Because the Old Town Association’s focus is bringing commerce to Old Town and fostering local support, we respect the council’s decision, but we are also disappointed,” Brenda Clouston, owner of COLT Grill and president of the OTA, wrote in an email. “The businesses in Old Town are working hard to sustain themselves during this pandemic and this cancellation isn’t helpful in that regard as it is very well attended from around the state.
“Personally I believe if you can go safely to Walmart, Safeway and Home Depot, then get on an airplane, you can probably navigate an outdoor street fair just fine,” she said. “That being said, I also understand the fear of this virus and have family members who are at risk. Our board looks forward to December’s Old Town activities with hopeful anticipation.”
“I agree with the city’s decision,” wrote Eric Jurisin, head of the Haunted Group, which own several restaurants in Old Town. “It would look bad to some. Wish things were different but it’s the 2020 norm at this point.”