It’s no secret that an opioid epidemic has rocked the Puget Sound region. As government officials grapple with how to address a complicated web of widespread addiction and homelessness, one Everett business owner is voicing his concerns in a very public way.
Since 1992, Gary Watts has run an auto repair shop specializing in foreign cars off one of the city’s main drags. In the past, Watts has been critical of street crime and drug dealing he says is rampant in the neighborhood around the 3600 block of Smith Avenue. But this week Watts splashed a more pointed message on the electronic sign outside his Z Sport Automotive shop:
“Welcome to Tweakerville. Everett, WA.”
“There’s just a lot of frustration in the world,” Watts says.
It’s not a coincidence that his controversial sign, which sits across the street from Everett Memorial Stadium, went up the week before the Aug. 1 primary election. Critical of how police and city officials have attempted to address crime and homelessness in the near term, Watts hopes his polarizing sign will spur voters to think about public safety before casting their ballots.
Watts, who recently installed security cameras at his shop, says that every car dropped off after hours this year has been vandalized. He says nearby homeless service organizations, including shelter and treatment program Everett Gospel Mission, have made the neighborhood a “meeting point” for addicts.
— MyEverettNews.com (@MyEverettNews) July 27, 2017
Last year Snohomish County voters narrowly shot down a sales tax hike that would have helped fund addiction services and given police more resources to combat the crisis.
In a statement to local blog MyEverettNews, which first spotted the sign, Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman said the city will continue its efforts to mitigate the effects of the opioid epidemic on local businesses.
“While I can certainly understand the frustrations of all of our city residents and business owners who have been impacted by the ongoing opioid epidemic, I choose to remain focused on finding solutions that will positively impact this crisis that has affected nearly every community across the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, Watts plans to continue displaying the sign after business hours for another week or so. MyEverettNews’ initial blog post has since been shared more than 2,000 times, attracting hundreds of comments both supporting and criticizing Watts’ sign.
“The sign was meant to do one thing and that’s to polarize,” Watts says. “And it has done that, significantly.”