Flag- and sign-waving protesters yelling “freedom” called for the city of Fresno to immediately reopen the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic Wednesday.
The City Hall crowd, which police estimated at 250, heard dozens of speakers — business owners and elected leaders — talk about the Constitution and the reeling economy that has sent unemployment soaring.
Speakers addressed the crowd from the back of a box truck parked on the street facing the entrance to City Hall. At one point, conservative activist and event organizer Ben Bergquam led chants of “Open up! Open up!”
‘Crazy Bernie’ Praises Brand
“I want to thank Mayor Lee Brand for standing up to the governor to show Sacramento and our great country that Fresno for once, instead of being the butt of jokes, can be the model for the safe reopening of this great country.” — Bernie Siomiak, owner of Crazy Bernie Furniture
On Tuesday, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand announced that all retail stores will be allowed to reopen in some fashion next Monday.
That includes Crazy Bernie Furniture, and its namesake owner Bernie Siomiak, who has publicly attacked Brand and his handling of the pandemic. His furniture store received two citations for a total of $6,000 in fines for operating curbside pickup as a nonessential business.
That’s why it was surprising when Siomiak, wearing his trademark crown, praised Fresno’s mayor.
“I want to thank Mayor Lee Brand for standing up to the governor to show Sacramento and our great country that Fresno for once, instead of being the butt of jokes, can be the model for the safe reopening of this great country,” Siomiak said.
Fresno Isn’t Reopening Fast Enough for Some
Speakers talked about the inequity of big box stores remaining open, but smaller stores being deemed nonessential.
Tara Smith, who owns Creative Tile with her husband, told the crowd simply “We need to open up now!”
Dine-in restaurants, hair-care, gyms, and entertainment venues will remain on the sideline, subject to more stringent criteria before the state allows them to reopen.
Restaurant owner Mike Shirinian, attending the event, said Brand isn’t acting fast enough.
“It’s a step in the right direction. The whole process needs to get accelerated. I think it’s better than nothing,” Shirinian said. “We need to get this open. Like yesterday.”
Shirinian served on Brand’s Fresno Recovery Advisory Committee before quitting last week, questioning Brand’s leadership.
Police were visible at the event, but kept their distance, usually across the street. Police chief Andy Hall roamed around, cheerfully greeted by well-wishers asking for pictures.
Many cars passing along O Street honked their horns, creating a festive atmosphere.
A few elected leaders spoke including councilman Garry Bredefeld — who has been critical of the city’s process of closing businesses — and county supervisors Steve Brandau and Nathan Magsig, who urged the audience to contact Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The only commerce taking place was a booth selling Donald Trump merchandise. Not a single food truck capitalized on the crowd and ideal weather.
Councilman Miguel Arias, a supporter of the way the city has been handling COVID-19, passed through the crowd on the way to City Hall.
“This will be the best parking revenue day we’ve had in a while,” he said.