Cruise the Couve gets cease and desist letter

Cruisin’ the Gut organizer says event a “blatant misappropriation of Cruisin’ the Gut’s identity, trademark and goodwill”

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

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Don’t say “gut.” Don’t even say “cruise.”

Downtown merchants and the city of Vancouver were warned July 7 by a law firm representing Cruisin’ the Gut, the erstwhile annual Vancouver car cruise-in, to stop marketing a July 15 replacement outing as if it’s a continuation of the very same event.

Naming the new event Cruise the Couve amounts to “blatant misappropriation of Cruisin’ the Gut’s identity, trademark and goodwill,” and a violation of “valuable intellectual property rights. This misappropriation is knowing, willful and ongoing.”

That’s according to Rylander and Associates, a Vancouver law firm that specializes in trademark and copyright law. On July 7, Rylander notified the city of Vancouver, Mayor Tim Leavitt, City Councilor Jack Burkman and the Main Street businesses and groups that rapidly formed up a new event steering committee, to stop associating their new event with the old one in any way.

Those Main Street businesses and groups include: the Uptown Village Association, Vancouver’s Downtown Association, Tip Top Tavern, Vancouver Pizza Company, the Uptown Barrel Room, Salmon Creek Outfitters, Zzoom Media and Trap Door Brewing, whose owner, Bryan Shull, has been the leader of this effort.

Cruisin’ the Gut is accusing those agencies and businesses, and the city, of “freeloading” — using the previous name and association to generate profits and tax revenues — while creating competition which “continues to damage Cruisin’ the Gut’s ability to market and sell its event in other locations.”

On Monday, Shull said he had little comment. There are no plans to change or rename the event, he said. “I don’t know that they’ve got a leg to stand on,” he said. “Our story hasn’t changed.”

The Columbian reached out to Cruisin’ the Gut organizer Phil Medina and got no response. Medina’s “Cruisin’ the Gut” website does not appear to have been updated since 2016, and there’s no obvious evidence that Cruisin’ the Gut has taken any steps to grow beyond the immediate area.

Cruisin’ the Gut’s Facebook page was updated on June 15 with a long statement complaining that the City of Vancouver had insisted on “the wrong type of liability insurance,” and had refused to carry all the event police costs, but only half or $8,000, whichever is less.

Medina “believes the City is one of the major monetary beneficiaries of this event and should play a larger role as the sponsor city that currently enjoys this event,” the statement concludes.

The city has said that the event, while a community booster and good for local businesses, generates marginal tax revenues. “It’s not a fundraiser or money-maker for the city,” said Julie Hannon, director of Vancouver Parks and Recreation, who added that most sales tax revenues go to the state. Vancouver itself realizes only hundreds of dollars on downtown merchants’ tens of thousands in boosted sales, she said.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

‘New name’?

A June 28 press release from Shull and associates declared that the event had been “reborn” and “renamed.” And on Monday morning, a city of Vancouver web page said that event “returns this year with a new name.”

“Reborn,” “renamed” and “returns” are top examples of “blatant misappropriation,” according to the warning from Rylander.

Also, the warning objects to the use of previous photographs of “Cruisin’ the Gut” to promote the new event — without permission of the organization, the photographers or even the people in the photos — and any ongoing dialog by organizers and the city that gives the “false impression” that the new event is related to the old one.

The warning demands that all parties stop using the name “Cruise the Couve” and stop referring to “Cruisin’ the Gut” as a way to promote the event or their own for-profit businesses.

But also on Monday morning, the Salmon Creek Outfitters website was still selling “Official Cruise the Couve” swag including T-shirts, hats, pint glasses and marketing posters.

“Full speed ahead,” said Randy Larson of Salmon Creek Outfitters. “Cruise the Couve is its own entity. We’re moving forward.”

Unstoppable?

But ambiguity appears to be baked right into the current dilemma. Medina launched and managed Cruisin’ the Gut for years, as it grew into a hugely popular local tradition. When Medina decided not to sponsor it this year, Bryan Shull and those downtown merchants rallied to save and rebrand it because of their certainty that it would have happened anyway.

The absence of infrastructure “would not have stopped the event,” Shull said on Monday. “That’s the whole point.”

Just picture downtown crawling with tens of thousands of cars and people — but no additional police, sanitation, portable toilets or crowd management, Shull said.

“This event has its own weather,” he said previously. “Angry people would have shown up anyway, blaming the city for this and that. Even if it was half the size it was before, that would be 10,000 or 15,000 people showing up — with no infrastructure.

“We’re trying to save the reputation of our street,” he said. “It’s all gotten so dramatic — but I just want to do business.”