Mardi Gras seemed relatively free of disturbances this year. Sure, there were the few dozen predictable arrests for drunkenness and breast-flashing over the weekend, and tickets written for jaywalking--but thankfully, those were minor infractions when compared with last year's chaos. On a closer look, however, this year's Mardi Gras celebration ended up highlighting perhaps a bigger disturbance in Pioneer Square: the ongoing battle among local businesses. Indeed, this year's Mardi Gras celebration, while calm on the surface, pulled the scab off an unhealed sore, revealing festering tensions between Pioneer Square's daytime retailers and nighttime bars.

Mayor Nickels heard all about it when he went to the neighborhood to discuss Mardi Gras. He wanted to reassure the retail businesses and art galleries that Mardi Gras 2002 would not be a repeat of last year. But the response he got from businesses revealed a larger problem. Even if Pioneer Square made it through the weeklong party, the tensions between daytime busi- nesses and the bars would remain.

"We can focus narrowly on the Mardi Gras issue, but it goes beyond that," says Peter Aaron, owner of the Elliott Bay Book Company. "There's a conflict between one group of business owners--some of the nightclubs--and everyone else."

The businesses that open early in the day--like retail shops, art galleries, and restaurants catering to the lunch crowd--are at odds with the nighttime businesses, like bars and clubs. The day businesses say the problem is twofold. First, they feel the bars and clubs aren't sufficiently concerned about issues of public safety, business retention, and social services. Second, some day business owners say the bars and clubs stabbed them in the back by ruining Pioneer Square's image during last year's Mardi Gras and not cleaning up the resulting mess.

Bif Brigman, co-owner of Laguna Vintage Pottery, says the day businesses have networked together to confront the issue of social services in Pioneer Square. They've supported the existing services, and have vocally opposed squeezing more into the neighborhood. But Brigman says they haven't always been backed up by the night businesses.

"We haven't seen a lot of the bars and nightclubs make that a priority, and I think that's made everybody suffer," Brigman says.

But Tina Bueche, owner of Dutch Ned's bar and restaurant, says many bar and restaurant owners would like to be involved, but their schedules preclude it. Bueche would gladly join neighborhood public safety meetings at noon. "But I work," she says.

Elliott Bay's Aaron says he still hasn't forgotten last year's melee. Of the tens of thousands of dollars in damage to stores in Pioneer Square, he says, the clubs and bars that promoted the event haven't paid a penny.

But Bueche says that regular citizens, not the bars, caused the problems last year. "I don't know why the bars should be responsible for something they didn't do," she says.

Day businesses weren't entirely convinced that the area would be safe this year. Staff at Elliott Bay Book Company, for example, planned on sticking around into the night on Fat Tuesday to watch over the store.

amy@thestranger.com

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