LONGEVIEW — Lower Columbia residents may stand with Stuffy’s, but it looks like the state is standing down.
The Washington State Attorney General’s Office filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss a court order the state originally placed on the Longview restaurant to force it to comply with a state ban on indoor dining.
The ban was lifted in Cowlitz County Feb. 14 as pandemic conditions improved, allowing Stuffy’s and every other Washington restaurant to offer indoor dining at 25% capacity. The restaurant still owes nearly half a million dollars in state fines.
The state banned indoor dining last spring and again in the fall, after reopening for a few months.
Dina Lorraine, with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, said the attorney general’s office placed about six temporary restraining orders on businesses not adhering to state restrictions and all six orders are being dismissed.
Stuffy’s supporters held “Stand with Stuffy’s” rallies in the parking lot of the Hall of Justice in Kelso before each of the business’s three postponed court hearings since January. Rally participants, which ranged from about 30 to 200, voiced their opposition to restrictions Washington Gov. Jay Inslee placed on businesses to protect citizens from the airborne coronavirus.
Stuffy’s owners previously faced two separate sanctions: They were fined by L&I for not complying with state indoor dining restrictions and were also going to court over the temporary restraining order from the state attorney general’s office to further force them to comply.
Lorraine said Stuffy’s owners still owe the $540,000 in fines they received during three inspections that showed the business was not following state orders at the time. L&I said Stuffy’s received 98 complaints for defying restrictions as of Jan. 26.
A post on the restaurant’s Facebook page said the restaurant will appeal the “excessive fines.” Lorraine said the appeals process can take months, and she has seen fines reduced, but never completely waived.
Stuffy’s recently replaced their attorney with a constitutional lawyer named Joel Ard, according to the business’s Facebook page. Previously, Stuffy’s was represented by Jason A. Celski, who also represented other Washington restaurants fighting to remain open during restrictions, including Spiffy’s Restaurant & Bakery in Chehalis and Farmboy Restaurant in Olympia.
Celeski was offering counsel free of charge, but Ard is paid through fundraised money, according to Stuffy’s Facebook page. A GoFundMe account for the business has raised $4,000 of its goal of $200,000 as of Wednesday.
The owners of the restaurant, which was founded in 1988, said that the state’s closure of indoor dining cut their revenue so much they had to defy the government’s orders to save their businesses.
In a Facebook post, Stuffy’s owners said their revenue was almost cut in half, from the second quarter of 2019 — before the pandemic — to the second quarter of 2020 — after the first round of indoor dining restrictions took place. The loss in revenue forced them to lay off staff.
“We choose to open up because we can’t survive on the decrease any longer and our employees are not getting unemployment,” stated the post.