EVERETT — An Everett business owner fed up with illegal drug use and low-level crime around the city is using his computerized reader board to deliver a message: “Welcome to Tweakerville.”
Gary Watts started posting the message this week at one of his two automotive shops, Z Sports Euro, on Broadway just off an I-5 exit into north Everett. The message is only displayed after business hours and he plans to take it down Saturday morning.
“The sign went up because it was calculated,” Watts said. “If it’s successful, it will polarize the community. They will look at that sign and say, ‘That’s unfair, that pisses me off.’ Or they will say, ‘Hooray, someone is finally doing something.’”
Watts wants to insert the topics of drug use, crime and homelessness into the city election.
“Why would I release it at the time that I did?” Watt said. “Because we have probably the most important election in 25 years. The primary is on Tuesday. The main election is going to be held in November. It’s going to elect or re-elect two city councilmen and a new mayor.”
After being written about by a local blog run by council candidate Lee Dart, the “Tweakerville” message is gaining widespread attention. Watts said he’s had 50 people and many reporters call him about it.
Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman released a statement in response to “Tweakerville” message.
“While I can certainly understand the frustrations of all of our city residents and business owners who have been impacted by the 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,” the statement read.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson deferred comment about the sign to his staff. Spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said the city put together a Smith Avenue Stakeholder group last year to address these very issues. She said they won’t be resolved overnight.
“It is a challenge that we face throughout the city, but that area has been particularly affected,” Pembroke said. “It’s ongoing work.”
Watts’ second shop is Z Sport Automotive at 3532 Smith Ave. It’s about a block away from the Everett Gospel Mission. On Friday morning, more than a dozen people camped under makeshift tents or other cover across the street from Watts’ business.
Three people lounged on a mattress on one street corner. Heather Horton keeps all of her possessions on the mattress. Her friends Iris Briggs and Daniel Mitchell stopped by to visit after having lunch at the Mission.
Horton said she is trying to get into a state Housing and Essential Needs program. She hadn’t seen the “Tweakerville” sign, but she said she felt it was unfair.
“Not everyone who is homeless is on drugs,” Horton said.
They did agree that illegal drug use is a problem in Everett.
“If you’re going to be an addict, be a responsible addict,” Briggs said. “Throw your needles away.”
“This morning, I found a needle in the middle of the street,” Horton said.
“See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Briggs said. “A kid could have stepped on that.”
Watts said he didn’t coin the name “Tweakerville” for Everett. He said the city is gaining the name from people who do use drugs.
“Why is Everett Tweakerville?” Watts said. “Because you have a benevolent police force who actively protect tweakers’ rights, just like they do any citizen, because the churches provide you with meals in many cases twice a day. You’ve got the Everett Gospel Mission — you’ve got food, you’ve got clothes, you’ve got a mild climate. That’s Tweakerville.”
Watts started his business in 1983 and opened his location at Smith Avenue in 1992. He owns the property and doesn’t want to move the shop.
He started seeing more and more homeless during the recession and, with that, increased drug use, thefts and other low-level crimes. A couple of years ago, he said there were 120 to 140 people camping in tents along Smith Avenue. He talked to the city and the police department who said they couldn’t do anything about people who weren’t violating the law.
He convinced news media to cover the swelling homeless camps.
“Guess how long it took to move those 120 to 140 campers out? A week. They were all gone,” Watts said. “It’s amazing what you guys in the press can do.”
Problems persisted and he said he doesn’t feel any safer now than he did then. He said every car that has been delivered this year after hours to his shop on Smith Avenue has been damaged or broken into.
He said that’s just a handful of cars, because most of his regular customers and the tow truck drivers know to bring vehicles during business hours.
One of his mechanics is now staying in a trailer on the property with a bank of motion detector cameras hooked up on the side of the building.
“They know I’ll be here at 7:30 at night if they need to drop their car off after work,” said mechanic John Stolzenburg, who noted he keeps a firearm with his belongings.
Watts praised the city for what he called strategic efforts at developing low-income housing and suing Purdue Pharma, alleging negligence by the drug manufacturer created the city’s opioid crisis.
Watts thinks that the city should be doing more of what he called tactical efforts, things that matter on a day-to-day basis or week-to-week basis.
“There are lots of things that could be done and there are lots of things that were requested two and a half years ago that weren’t done,” he said.
He said that the city should put up its own cameras on most utility poles around high-crime neighborhoods.
Everett Downtown Storage owner Pat Sievers spoke with Watts on Friday morning about the sign. He owns three storage businesses including one on Smith Avenue.
“I’m frustrated like Gary,” Sievers said. “I don’t like that stigma on our city, but I can’t deny the problems in and around my business.”
But he said a lot of good people, including city staff and business owners, are working on the issues.
“It hasn’t improved the situation significantly, but they’re not ignoring the problem,” Sievers said. “That’s the point I want to make.”
Jim Davis: 425-339-3097; firstname.lastname@example.org; @HBJnews.