A new King County rule that took effect on Monday requires patrons to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test to dine-in at bars and restaurants, to work out in gyms and to enjoy indoor entertainment venues such as theaters and museums in King County. The new rule also applies to conferences and conventions, and any large outdoor gatherings with more than 500 people — though children under age 12, who aren’t yet eligible for a vaccine, are exempt. 

So far, a day into the implementation of the rule, business owners have mixed feelings about the new requirement. 

A sign on the door of NW Fitness Gym, in downtown Seattle, telling patrons that masks and proof of COVID-19 vaccines are required for entry. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Many Seattle-area restaurant and bar owners were already requiring proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test for dine-in customers. And some leaders of Seattle museums and business owners are happy about the new measure that public health officials say could help slow the spread of the virus. But other Seattle businesses say they have already lost customers because of the vaccination requirement, and the owners don’t want another regulation that they claim hurts small businesses, especially at a time when they’re already struggling from issues like the labor shortage.

Leonard Garfield, executive director of Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry, has been looking forward to the vaccination requirement and the effect it will have on the museum’s visitors. 

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“We think the net effect will be that our visitors and our community will feel safer knowing that everyone around them in that venue is fully vaccinated and ready to enjoy life knowing that they’re healthy and safe,” he said.

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Other museums, including the Burke Museum and the Wing Luke Museum, which won’t open until later this week, are also expecting everything to go smoothly for patrons. 

Jeff Brein, who owns the Seattle-area movie theater group Far Away Entertainment, is also optimistic — but cautiously so — about the new regulation’s effects on his two Seattle movie theaters: Varsity Theatre in the University District and the Historic Admiral Theater in the North Admiral neighborhood. 

He said Far Away Entertainment has been getting emails for the past four or five months from customers saying they won’t go back to movie theaters unless there is a vaccine policy. He’s hopeful that with the proof of vaccine requirement, movie theaters may see an increase in patrons. If that’s the case, Far Away Entertainment may consider introducing the mandate at theaters in other counties, or doing vaccine-only showtimes. 

Some business owners, though, are already seeing negative consequences from the requirement.

Transform 180, a gym focused on personal training with locations in Belltown and South Lake Union, lost 15% of its members in the days leading up to when the vaccine or test requirement started, according to its owner, Charith Madawela. He said his revenue hasn’t recovered to anywhere near pre-pandemic levels, and the loss in members is a big hit. Many of his former clients are still not coming to work out even if they are vaccinated because they don’t want to train in a mask, he said.

Justin Young, who owns Flow Fitness’s two Seattle locations, said he thinks it’s unfair that the government continues to roll out new pandemic restrictions that hurt small businesses without helping them handle the costs. 

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John and Jess Carrico, owners of NW Fitness Gym, say that they lost several gym members and an employee in advance of King County’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Meanwhile, John Carrico, who owns NW Fitness Gym in downtown Seattle with Jess, his wife, said they’ve also lost several gym members and an employee who didn’t want to get vaccinated because of the requirement. He said around 250 out of 450 gym members already sent in their vaccine cards, but he’s frustrated by the amount of work it will be to track down the other 200 who might have missed his emails or aren’t willing to get vaccinated. 

“We, unfortunately, have grown accustomed to having to adapt to some form of regulation almost every three months for the last two years,” Carrico said. “It just piles on the work for our already-taxed team.” 

But he said they may get some new members who are now comfortable working out because of the vaccine requirement, which might help make up for the loss of members they’ve seen so far. 

For Michelle Cozzaglio, co-owner and curator of the Oddities & Curiosities Expo coming to the Washington State Convention Center on Oct. 30, the new regulation has become a major hurdle — particularly the requirement that non-vaccinated attendees show a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of the event.

Cozzaglio, who is based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been hearing from customers who bought their tickets weeks and months ago, who say testing delays might make them miss the event. 

“I’ve had to refund people, and we typically have no refunds,” she said. On top of that, the expo — which brings together vendors of dark art, taxidermy and other cabinet-of-curiosity-type goods — has had to hire a staffing service to make sure all attendees comply with the new regulation.

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Some Seattle restaurant owners see the requirement as another barrier to profitability in an industry that’s been struck particularly hard by past pandemic regulations and the labor shortage. They’re also concerned the requirement will put added pressure on staff. 

“Many restaurants have struggled to hire workers during the pandemic, and adding staff for the front door to check vaccine status has created an added challenge,” said Steve Hooper, president of Seattle’s Ethan Stowell Restaurants group. Stowell said in August he’s had to delay reopening some of his restaurants because he couldn’t find the staff to run them.

Bart Evans, the owner of Bluwater Bistro in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood, is so supportive of vaccinations that he’s turning his dining room into a vaccine clinic on Oct. 27, but even he has mixed feelings about the requirement for customers because he’s worried about how to enforce it. 

“Our staff is fully vaccinated,” Evans said. “It’s only fair that we expect our customers to be.” 

He’s worried, though, about putting his staff in a position where they have to bar people from the restaurant. His employees are used to welcoming people, not acting as bouncers.

“It’s not a role we like to play or are used to,” Evans said. “We’re not a nightclub in Pioneer Square.”

Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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Seattle Times staff reporters Brendan Kiley and Crystal Paul contributed to this story.