Two Seattle tech workers stick it to coronavirus with virtual ‘Gumwall’ to benefit restaurant workers

A $1 donation removes one of the colored pieces of “gum” from the Gumwall website and when they’re all purchased, an image will be revealed. (Gumwall Image)

Seattle’s famously gooey Gum Wall tourist attraction was scrubbed of an estimated 1 million pieces of chewing gum back in 2015. In 2020, visitors to a new website called Gumwall can spend a buck to remove a single piece of virtual “gum,” and cleaning the wall this time will benefit restaurant and hospitality workers affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

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The site will launch in five days according to a countdown clock running at the top of it, and is the work of Mark Michael and Patrick Opie. Michael is co-founder and CEO of DevHub, a Seattle startup whose platform is used by big brands and/or their agencies to build websites and landing pages. Opie, a former DevHub engineer, is founder of Scout9, an AI-powered virtual assistant to help people raise a puppy.

Putting your fingers in your mouth to grab a piece of gum and then sticking that gum on the brick wall of a public alleyway seems like just the kind of behavior that could use an online alternative, especially as it relates to all the coronavirus-inspired hygiene advice you’ve heard.

Mark Michael, left, and Patrick Opie. (Linked In Photos)

But Michael’s idea was sparked mainly by his concern for restaurant and hotel workers, some of whom he witnessed grieving in his Belltown neighborhood in the early days of a lockdown on those types of businesses in Seattle.

A regular at the Italian restaurant Assaggio, Michael was there when workers from chef Tom Douglas’ nearby establishments came in and said they were being let go during his closure of 13 restaurants.

“That’s when I was like, holy sh*t this is so real,” Michael said.

Rather than put his money toward gift cards or encourage more people to order takeout, Michael figured a collective effort in which people donated $1 could turn into a virtual game and be more fun. As each piece of “gum” is removed, a picture will be revealed on Gumwall.

And each dollar will go to Big Table — Seattle, an organization that cares for workers in crisis. According to Big Table, the hospitality industry in Seattle employs almost 275,000 people at 3,200 restaurants and 200 hotels. During the COVID-19 crisis, it’s directing people toward resources as varied as medical debt relief, unemployment help, free diapers and baby supplies and more.

“Whatever goes in goes right out to them,” Michael said of the Gumwall donations.

While working from home on DevHub business, it took about a week to put the site together with Opie.

“It’s really not that hard. It’s a payment gateway, very simplistic graphics, it’s more of the mechanism of being able to accept a dollar that is, I guess, the hardest part,” he added.

Um, wash your hands? A section of the real Gum Wall in Seattle’s Post Alley, where chewed gum is stuck to everything. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Michael was inspired to play off the real Gum Wall because he runs past it in Post Alley near the Pike Place Market a few times a week. He’s had the web domain gumwall.co forever and a buddy has gumwall.com, which is now pointing at Michael’s site.

“It all just kind of clicked,” he said. “A visual representation of something, kind of a puzzle, something that Seattle might recognize. It just worked.”

Even the “submit” button for those about to click and give money is pulsating like a pink chewing gum bubble.

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There are 10,000 pieces of “gum” on his wall and Michael said he’d be up for re-running the whole thing if it manages to sell out and raise $10,000. He pictured doing something else for Seattle with $1 donations, perhaps around dog or cat rescue.

And when the lockdown lets up, COVID-19 fears subside and restaurants open again, Michael will head across the street to his favorite place.

“I’m going to Assaggio’s. I will pour a martini in my eyeball,” he said laughing. “Certain restaurants and bars, there’s a magic to them. If there was an earthquake or a power outage or snowstorm, that would be the place I would want to go.

“I’m gonna dress up, too, like it’s New Year’s or something,” he added. “I’m gonna go for it for sure.”