Cañon City cruise drives divide in community

Complaints about groups on sidewalks cause concern
Canon City cruise drives divide in community
Posted at 11:50 PM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 15:08:13-04

CAÑON CITY — News5 documented a drive in Cañon City on April 24, where dozens cruised down Main Street to show their support for small businesses. Since then, both the city and Fremont County report they have gotten several complaints about the event, while those behind it are defending the drive.

These drives down Main Street have happened on the two last Fridays in April, and are meant to revive a tradition while also demonstrating to local businesses that the community supports them. "It was nice after all this doom and gloom to see people laughing and having a good time, to see all the classic cars driving up and down the road," said Rusty Lake, who owns Classic Furniture on Main Street in Canon City.

However, the Chairwoman of the Fremont County Commissioners said they received lots of complaints about the event. "It's fine if you want to cruise Main Street while staying in your car, but that's not what happened last Friday... We were told by countless people and we saw pictures of individuals who were grouping together in groups of far more than ten at a time... We did say, if we have to, we will issue an injunction. We will go to court. I think we came down very harshly, and I know a lot of people did not take kindly to that," said Commissioner Debbie Bell.

Bell said she wants to apologize for coming down a bit harshly. The notice was sent out to residents on April 29, saying the Fremont County Department of Public Health and Environment and the City of Canon City "want to remind the public that downtown or community events that will attract 10 or more people to a specific location are prohibited at this time." The notice also said this direction is coming from Gov. Jared Polis' office, and not from the local level.

While News5 did see Cañon City police on Main Street last Friday, the message from the county and city states "there will be heavy law enforcement presence this Friday night to discourage cruising and other non-essential activities. Penalties for violating the executive and public health order could lead to criminal offenses or businesses losing their licenses to operate."

Bell said she hopes the evening does not get to the point of ticketing and fining people, but that will ultimately be in the hands of the Canon City Police Department. Several residents told News5 they had been informed the National Guard could be called out to Cañon City, but Commissioner Bell said that they are not actually prepared to do that. Bell also addressed the statement about businesses losing their licenses. "The other thing that's out there right now is that we are threatening businesses and individuals with lawsuits, we are telling them were going to pull their licenses. Those things are not true."

As far as legal action goes, Bell said Fremont County could issue a cease and desist order, if necessary. "If the state decides we're not taking care of our own problem, the state could issue a cease and desist order. If that order is issued and we still do not comply as a community, it could go into the court of law for an actual injunction that would prevent everyone from coming downtown," said Bell.

The commissioners also said the more people who comply with the current law, the quicker the community will be able to move to the next phase of reopening. Bell said the county was applying for a variance that would allow them to have more leniency during phase two. They had to present a plan to the state detailing how their community was being safe, following orders, and not congregating. She said they have only seen 17 positive COVID-19 cases in the county, and they had not added any more in the past few days, "but with people congregating, the possibility of another outbreak, or an outbreak happening here as they have happened in other areas is much much higher. So, what happened last Friday night was all over not only Facebook, but on the news, it was in the newspapers, and it caught the state's attention... We did not go to the state, the state came to us... After what's happening here, and the state knows what is happening, I can almost guarantee you that we will not be given the waiver that we had asked for, that we spent time on and turned in, because now the state does not believe that we're being safe," said Bell.

Bell did say they were told they could lose "state funding," but what exactly that money is, she cannot say.

News5 also spoke with the mayor of Cañon City, Ashley Smith, who said they are garnering grant money to buy hand sanitizer stations and thermometers for their local businesses as they reopen, while also supplying posters for them to hang in their windows explaining social distancing and what is being done to keep shoppers safe.

Smith said the cruise was encouraging people to gather on the sidewalks, which could delay Canon City being able to open up more of their businesses. "We just can't encourage them all to come down at the exact same time, between seven and eight on Friday nights... But also businesses themselves have been reaching out to me and the city, and saying, "we aren't a part of this, we just want to be able to operate our business and open up and do what we do best, we don't want to be a part of the rebellion,'" said Smith.

Smith released a letter regarding these drives Friday morning. "Whether by action, or in-action, if the City and County does not en-force the state law of the Phase 2 requirement we could lose our ability to govern ourselves locally, lose state funding, businesses could lose their licenses, and we’d all go back to Phase1's more strict rules," she wrote.

Read the full letter here

Those behind the drives said they were never meant as a protest. "Most of the businesses that we saw had an increase in their takeout. If you saw any crowds, that was because people were parking on the curbs, they were getting out and getting their takeout, and going back to their cars. Going up and down Main Street, honking, waving, smiling, saying, 'hey, we're glad you're here, we're going to get through this, we're going to make it together,'" said Randy Smith, who owns First Stitches Sewing Store and Quilt Shop with his wife.

While speaking with the mayor, those with the city told News5 there are around 46,000 people in Fremont County. Meanwhile, Commissioner Bell said they have seen 17 positive cases total throughout this pandemic. "Our statistics don't bear the amount of pressure that's put on this small town... We need to live again," said Randy Smith.

Lake said what is happening is an example of government overreach. "The state and local authorities are overstepping their bounds... Constitutional rights are being trampled on without any reason," said Lake.

News5 was provided with a copy of a flyer that Lake said was being dispersed. The flyer says:

Join the Resistance:
Cruise Main Street Canon City
First Friday from 6 to 8
Stores will be open
Restaurants will be open
Americans will be enjoying their God given Freedoms!
The United States Constitution explicitly provides for 'the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition for a redress of grievances' in the First Amendment. PLEASE, do so wisely. If you are sick stay home. Staying at least six feet away from other people lessens your chances of catching COVID-19. Wear a cloth face covering especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Avoid groups exceeding 10 people. Be smart.
A flyer from Canon City

Everyone News5 spoke with said there will most likely be some version of the event happening on May 1. "The city government is treating us as business owners, and this city, like a bunch of children in elementary school. And of course, they're not going to have a receptive electorate when they treat us like children and do not include us in any of the decision making," said Lake.

The city and county also stated in their notice to citizens to try and support local businesses through the 3/50 program. That's where three businesses are chosen, and a person spends $50 in their physical or online stores.