Smead’s Pub owner ‘shocked, disgusted’ by tent restrictions

Fire officials closed Washougal pub’s beer garden during NYE celebration

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The owners of Smead's Pub in Washougal installed this large tent in their outdoor beer garden to cover and warm outdoor diners while COVID-19 restrictions prohibit indoor seating. (Contributed photo courtesy of Kimber Eckman)

Kimber Eckman looked forward to a fun, festive New Year’s Eve at her establishment, Smead’s Pub in Washougal. Instead, the night turned into one of the most difficult personal and professional experiences of her life.

“It was the absolutely worst New Year’s that my family ever had,” Eckman said. “We were so upset.”

On the night of Dec. 31, Camas-Washougal Fire Department (CWFD) marshal Ron Schumacher went to the pub and told Eckman that she must immediately shut down the outdoor tent that she had erected in her outdoor beer garden earlier that month.

During the course of the next 11 days, Eckman blasted Schumacher’s actions in a series of strongly worded Facebook posts. She wrote on the pub’s page that “the “city is taking advantage of (her), and likely other businesses, and it can no longer be allowed, much less tolerated” and that she “wanted to speak up now before what’s happening to (her) can happen to any other small businesses in Washougal.”

The pub was forced to close for 12 days, “causing additional financial loss during a pandemic,” Eckman wrote.

CWFD chief Nick Swinhart told the Post-Record that the department has a policy of not commenting on specific fire code enforcement actions.

“The Camas-Washougal Fire Department is focused on protecting life, health and safety in our community, including, but not limited to, (the) enforcement of fire codes,” Swinhart said. “The fire marshal’s office is working with the (Smead’s Pub) property owner to ensure compliance with the fire and life safety requirements of the International Fire Code.”

Eckman was “surprised” by the shutdown order because she hadn’t heard from Schumacher after his previous visit to the pub on Dec. 21 to ensure that her tent complied with all fire codes and regulations.

“We followed what we believed were the proper channels,” she said. “My husband and I have owned this bar for almost 14 years, and we have always followed the rules to the best of our ability. If (Schumacher) comes in and tells me that I need to update something or upgrade (something), I’m on it. I don’t ever not comply. When he didn’t get back to us, I really didn’t think much about it because we’ve never not been in compliance. I figured he’d get back to me on the phone on Monday.”

Eckman said that when Schumacher first visited the pub on Dec. 31, he told her that she would have to turn off the salamander heaters that were warming the 32-foot-by-20-foot tent and that the tent wasn’t fire retardant. Eckman replied that she hadn’t received any paperwork from him about possible infractions or needed changes.

Schumacher told Eckman that he would allow her to stay open for the rest of the night, but then returned about 20 minutes later with two other CWFD deputies and told her that he had received a complaint and that she had to close down.

“I was kind of in a state of shock,” Eckman said. “I was embarrassed about what was happening because we did have a pretty decent crowd. It was like something out of ‘The Twilight Zone.’ It was just that crazy.

“My son (Levi), who is a second-year law student at the University of Massachusetts and Dartmouth College – he knows what he’s talking about – was simply asking (questions), and Ron couldn’t answer the questions and became flustered,” she continued. “The deputies couldn’t answer the questions. It just kept going and going. We (finally) decided that, ‘We’re done.’ He was closing us down, and we weren’t going to fight it anymore.”

Eckman left the pub, but on her way home received a call from her bartender, who told her that Schumacher and the marshals had returned once again, this time with paperwork to fill out. She immediately turned back around and drove straight back to the pub, where Levi was talking with the officers.

“At this point I was very angry,” she said. “(Schmacher) refused to answer questions. He was very, very rude. We had quite the conversation. The next thing I know he called the police on my son about being assaulted. (One of the CWFD employees also) made a comment under his breath, a derogatory remark towards my son and his sexuality. That absolutely disgusted me.”

Swinhart told the Post-Record that Schumacher, “who was there for the entirety of the interaction, said he heard no such comments.”

“The CWFD has not heard of this, nor have we received any formal complaint,” Swinhart said. “The CWFD, as a matter of policy, does not comment on personnel matters.”

Six Washougal police officers, including chief Wendi Steinbronn, arrived on the scene soon thereafter, but left without arresting Levi, Ecmkan said.

Eckman later tried to file a police report, but was told that she couldn’t because Steinbronn had visited the scene and would decide if further action was required.

“I called the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, and there isn’t a (police report) to get,” Eckman said. “So I had six officers out there, and the police chief, and no police report. My attorney told me to be sure to get a copy, and there is no copy.”

Eckman believes that her business was “targeted purposely” by the CWFD.

“I believe (Schumacher) had a plan to come in there that night to shut me down,” she said. “I’m not sure (why). I’ve run so many different scenarios through (my mind). I know that we have a sense of popularity, so maybe that’s why he wanted to make an example out of me. … It truly was a blatant misuse of power. (Schumacher) was making damn sure that I knew that he had control whether my business ran or not.”

Eckman said that she was “disgusted with the way (she) was treated.”

“We should be helping each other,” she said. “We should be getting each other through this (pandemic), not trying to push people out or pick and choose who we want to stay. Whatever the reasoning is, they’ve chosen very poorly on how they handle situations. I, for one, am very upset by it. I’m sickened by it. … Being treated like this was really a slap in the face. (They) treated us like we were criminals.”

The pub is currently serving takeout orders, but Eckman has ordered a new tent and heaters, and hopes to resume outdoor dining as soon as possible.

She won’t forget the events of Dec. 31, 2020, anytime soon, however.

“This has been one hell of a situation, and it’s been really hard on my family, my employees and myself,” she said. “My main objective right now is to get that tent open properly and follow whatever rules I need to follow — because I don’t have a problem with that — so my business is making money and generating some income. As far as other items, I haven’t gotten that far yet. I plan to do what’s right.”