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Vandal targets coffee shop at center of anti-gentrification protests in Boyle Heights

A small coffee shop at the center of multiple anti-gentrification protests in Boyle Heights was vandalized Wednesday, according to its owners.

Footage from surveillance video at Weird Wave Coffee showed a person — clad in black clothing and a black mask — stepping out of an alley, then quickly using what may be a slingshot to shoot an object at the shop’s logo. The object cracked the coffee shop’s glass door.

Shop owners John Schwarz and Jackson Defa said they don’t know whether the vandalism is associated with the protesters.

“It could have been just some punk kid,” Defa said.

The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating.

Since it opened in June, the coffee shop has been the target of multiple protests and online trolling. Activists say the cafe poses a threat to local shops because it will draw in similar hip, new businesses that cause rents to go up, ultimately ousting tenants who have been doing business along Cesar Chavez Avenue for many years.

It’s not the first time a business has been vandalized. In November, someone scrawled profanity in front of an art gallery. The month before that, police said three acts of vandalism involving galleries had taken place. No details were provided.

A growing arts scene has taken root in the industrial section of the Eastside neighborhood, which is heavily Latino. Some residents say they worry the galleries will change the neighborhood, increase rent and push working-class families out.

Along Cesar Chavez Avenue, activists fear the coffee shop will do the same for businesses.

“Yeah, but that has always happened here,” said Guillermo Banegas, 67, the owner of a barbershop four doors down from the coffee shop. “If I leave, my landlord is going to raise the rent on the next person who opens a business here.”

Banegas has been running his barbershop for about 20 years and has lived in Boyle Heights for 30 years.

“In the ’80s I was paying $650 in rent and now $1,100,” he said.

Banegas knows his days of cutting hair along Cesar Chavez Avenue may soon come to an end. A new property owner already is threatening to raise his rent by $300. But Banegas said that’s the nature of business.

“I want the coffee shop here,” Banegas said. “If it’s going to bring more people, the better for us.”

Banegas said he doesn’t agree with the recent protests and doesn’t quite understand why they have been targeting the coffee shop.

“They have a right to run a business,” he said. “It’s up to you if you want cheap coffee or expensive coffee.

“We all want to be prosperous business owners,” he added.

Customers were surprised to see the shattered glass door.

“It’s disheartening,” said Rachel Chang, 31, a Boyle Heights resident and frequent customer.

Granville Ampong, 47, said he has seen the neighborhood change for the better and hopes it continues.

“Social change is coming,” Ampong said.

As for the shop, the owners said they don’t plan on leaving.

“We all want to keep going and would like for this to be resolved peacefully, but to do that, we need engagement,” Schwarz said.

Defa said that despite the protests, many residents have been supportive of the business.

“We’re blessed, blessed, blessed to be here,” Defa said.

ruben.vives@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATvives

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