It's the gateway for many drivers on the way to downtown Everett. Yet, for the last couple of days, there has been an uncommon welcome sign to greet them.


The LED screen flashes again, yellow and red for special emphasis.


It was Gary Watts' idea. He owns Z-Sport near 40th and Broadway and the sign out front, which normally advertises service specials at his car repair shop.

"Everett's a great place, (but) it's got some problems," said Watts, who also says he's lived and worked in the area for decades. "Our crimes against property, vandalism, theft, breaking into cars, crimes against property is outrageous."

He blames it on the well-chronicled opiod epidemic in Everett and Snohomish County, but notes that crime seems unusually high when compared to other communities. Records show property crime in particular is higher per capita in Everett than in Seattle.

"How do tweakers get their money? They steal!" he said emphatically.

Watts says he made the decision to make the statement, as a way to highlight the issues. He doesn't blame police, but rather elected officials. Watts says it was "not a knee jerk reaction" to put up the billboard days before the primary election.

It has prompted a social media firestorm. MyEverettNews says it was one of their most viewed and most shared stories ever, and on Thursday, multiple people were stopping and taking photographs of the sign. Others expressed their concerns.

"It's making a broad statement," said one woman. "I don't like it."

"What is he trying to prove?" said another.

A man named Tony stopped to take pictures, saying at first, "I think it's hilarious." He then paused, acknowledging, "I think that heroin is taking peoples souls," and "it's a creative way to address the situation I guess."

Watts says that's the kind of introspection he was trying to create, but plans to take down the sign on Friday morning after he said he made his point.

"It's not just a police problem. Tactically if we're going to fight it, every one of us has to react," he said. "These are new problems, and you can't use old methods to solve them."