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Sept. 20, 2020

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Vancouver bar Tip Top closes, cites challenge of state mask rule

Tavern’s owner calls compliance ‘impossible’

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
2 Photos
The Tip Top Tavern voluntarily closed Saturday, citing concerns about the difficulty of enforcing the requirement that customers wear masks when not at their tables.
The Tip Top Tavern voluntarily closed Saturday, citing concerns about the difficulty of enforcing the requirement that customers wear masks when not at their tables. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Iconic Vancouver bar Tip Top Tavern closed its doors Saturday afternoon “for the foreseeable future.” Its owner cited pressure caused by Washington’s COVID-19 mask rules.

Owner Janelle Shadley said she and her staff worked hard to keep up with the rapidly changing guidelines, but she decided to voluntarily close the Uptown Village anchor because she felt that the bar was being held accountable for customer behavior to a degree that made it impossible to avoid violations.

Face masks are mandatory for all staff and customers at bars and restaurants in Washington under the state’s current COVID-19 rules. Customers are only allowed to remove their masks if they’re actively eating or drinking while seated at a table, and restaurants are required to refuse service to customers who aren’t in compliance.

“It’s an impossible task, because one person stands up and forgets to pull their mask up – it’s a violation,” she said. “I get a written warning if (an enforcer from) liquor control sees that.”

Tip Top has received two warnings from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, Shadley said. The first came in late June and the second was last week, and she said after the second one she became convinced that another violation, this one with a penalty, would be inevitable.

“In order to save what I have, I felt I had no other choice,” she said. “I had to shut it down to save it. If I lose my liquor license, my employees won’t have jobs to go back to.”

Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board Communications Director Brian Smith confirmed that Tip Top has received two written warnings, but disputed the characterization of the enforcement process. A customer forgetting to put on a mask when standing up would “absolutely not” result in a violation for a restaurant, he said.

The board has received numerous complaints from across the state about bars and taverns violating the mask rule, Smith said, but the agency’s response has been almost all focused on trying to educate licensees. A violation would only be issued if a business continued to break a rule, he said, such as hosting live music even after being contacted and warned.

“What we’re talking about here is flagrant disregard for the governor’s proclamation,” he said.

At that point, a typical citation would start with a $500 fine and step up if the violation continues, he said.

Shadley said she decided to close Saturday afternoon after she learned of an unsanctioned car rally happening along Main Street Saturday evening, which she feared would increase the probability of customer mask rule violations. The Tip Top is at 2100 Main St.

Along with most other Vancouver restaurants and bars, Tip Top has been struggling with the current COVID-19 safety rules, which limit restaurants to 50 percent of their usual indoor seating capacity.

Many of Vancouver’s establishments have tried to adapt by increasing their outdoor seating capacity through patios, picnic tables and parklets. In Tip Top’s case, that meant expanding a side patio and adding several picnic tables out front.

Tip Top is one of the oldest businesses in the Uptown Village neighborhood, long predating the economic revival that brought dozens of new businesses in recent years. It’s a community institution in its own right, Shadley said, with a large crowd of local regulars, especially at breakfast.

The closure of the tavern is almost unprecedented, Shadley said – Tip Top closed in March during the initial pandemic stay-at-home order and reopened June 9, but prior to that it had never missed a single day in the 16 years since she took over the business.

Shadley said she intends to reopen the bar as soon as possible, but expressed concern about whether she’d be able to make it through the indefinite closure period. The business got a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which helped with the June reopening, she said, but that money has been spent and she’ll still have to pay rent and utilities on the building during this closure.

In the meantime, Shadley said she plans to host a free lunch hour today to use up the restaurant’s remaining perishable food supply. Tip Top itself won’t be open, she said, but the staff will be in the kitchen cooking and boxing up meals to hand out to the community.

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