Eatonville residents responded with understanding, disappointment and anger following the news that the town's 2020 Independence Day celebration has been canceled.
The Eatonville Chamber of Commerce cancelled the event April 27 out of fiscal concerns, as well as worries involving health guidelines and social distancing mandates implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Eatonville Facebook group posts by the Eatonville Dispatch requesting resident comment were taken down because of concerns of negative feedback directed at the Chamber of Commerce, and chamber members initially refused to comment on their decision. Chamber member Alana Smith emailed a letter to the Dispatch Friday, however, explaining the chamber’s decision further.
“As the ones fiscally responsible for paying for the event, we were not willing to gamble on non-refundable deposits and contracts we would become personally responsible for paying,” she wrote.
According to Smith's letter, the event costs nearly $16,000 each year. Businesses struggling have affected donations and stay-at-home orders have made fundraising difficult, Smith wrote.
“...This event is not paid for by the town, nor are any of us on the Chamber of Commerce paid,” she wrote. “We are all volunteers.”
In addition to fiscal issues, Smith wrote the health and safety of residents is chamber members' top priority. The popularity of the event has grown in recent years, creating concern for social distancing guidelines, she wrote.
The free event, normally scheduled July 3 and July 4, includes fireworks, food, a parade, bouncy houses, live music and more. Thousands of residents from Eatonville and nearby towns are attracted to the event. The influx of tourists brings local businesses and vendors revenue, which helps Eatonville flourish.
“It puts the town on display,” local resident Rickie Jacobs wrote of the event in a personal message. “With as many tourists as we get during this time … the parade is so vital to the success of Eatonville.”
Jacobs wrote the decision, made nearly three months in advance, was premature. Others feel the same way. Some residents, however, are feeling sad they will miss the gathering, which the chamber intends to bring back in 2021, but understand the chamber members' decision.
“I understand, but this is something we look forward to,” local resident Tiffanie Rind wrote on a Facebook comment. “We have come every year for as long as I remember.”
“It makes sense to cancel it,” Graham resident Casey Beckman wrote in a personal message. “The crowd that gathers… is wild.”
Gypsy Wagon Espresso owner Emily McFadden wrote in a personal message, “I fully understand and support the decision made by the chamber … when you weigh all the facts, it doesn’t make sense to plan all the details when there is so much uncertainty right now.”
McFadden wrote it is disappointing, but she is looking forward to next year's celebration. She is hopeful this and next year’s resources will be combined to create one of the best celebrations Eatonville has seen.
Other residents are not as optimistic about the cancellation and are calling for the community to have the celebration anyway. The town of Winthrop recently had a parade and has opened several businesses, rejecting Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders. Winthrop will likely follow the same trajectory for Independence Day, and some Eatonville residents feel the town should follow Winthrop's example.
“Open businesses, do not comply with what Jay Inslee is doing,” local resident Chelsey Geddes wrote in a Facebook comment. “I say we continue with the 4th of July fireworks display.”
“[I’m] very disappointed,” local resident Linda Shattuck wrote in a Facebook comment. “We all need this time together to celebrate our country ... We should all celebrate as a community in whatever way is possible!”
Local resident Glenn Cummings wrote in a Facebook comment, “Let’s do it anyway, even if it’s informal.”
Some residents are saying the reason for cancelling is unfounded.
“A virus that has a 98-99 percent survival rate should not have caused this much of an issue and for so long,” Geddes wrote. “I wish people would stop letting fear run their lives.”
“This is sad. This is control by the government, not for safety,” local resident Deanna Anderson wrote in a Facebook comment.
Additionally, several residents have directed profanity and anger at the Chamber of Commerce board members in response to the canceled event. Smith wrote in the chamber's letter that board members are “saddened and hurt by the hateful comments and messages and the anger that was directed at us.”
The chamber understands the community's frustration and disappointment, Smith wrote in the letter. She wrote the community always looks forward to the celebration and cancelling it was not an easy decision. She apologized to residents who were looking forward to the celebration and ensured the funds donated thus far are being saved for next year’s celebration. Smith wrote she looks forward to seeing everyone at next year's Independence Day events.
The Independence Day celebration is not the only event canceled in Eatonville. The Rod Knockers Car Club opted to cancel its 25th annual car show June 27 because of COVID-19 concerns, and the Pierce County Fair Board announced this year's fair will take place virtually.