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Recalling ’92 riots, Von Dutch general manager tells staff to leave Melrose store

A firefighter walks behind a burning building on Melrose Avenue during civil unrest in Los Angeles on Saturday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Inside Von Dutch, a national apparel store known for its trucker hats with a flagship store on Melrose Avenue, the shelves were empty Sunday.

Expletive-laden graffiti was sprayed in blue on the wall, and the carpet was charred from where someone had set a fire the night before.

The store windows had been smashed, and the front door had also splintered, the cracks spidering over a sign that addressed the coronavirus outbreak and said, “The well being of our staff & customers is our number one priority.”

Ed Goldman, the general manager for Von Dutch North America, helped carry chairs from the ransacked store to a car outside.

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“We were getting ready to open after the pandemic alleviation,” he said, noting the store had planned to reopen next week. He wanted to give it a little longer because it had been pretty dead along Melrose, even after shopping restrictions were lifted.

Goldman said when his team alerted him to what was happening in the area, his mind flashed back to 1992, when he lived in Santa Monica.

Back then, you wouldn’t go east of Westwood, he said, because “you were running the risk of your life being lost.”

The store had reopened Friday after being closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. But it closed its doors Saturday because of George Floyd protests.

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He told his team to leave.

“I told them get out because it’s dangerous,” he said. “I was here in ‘92. A lot of people were just shot for hanging around.”

Benjamin Baumann, who runs the digital initiative of Von Dutch, was outside when protesters first started breaking in around 7:30 or 8 p.m.

He had come to the area with a friend to monitor the situation and was able to talk down the would-be burglars.

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“We told them, ‘This is our store,’” he said. “We completely respect the situation.”

They left but later returned, and Baumann and his friend were chased off. Vandals then spray-painted their cars.

“We were trying to keep them away from the store,” he lamented.

When Baumann got home, he got a text from another friend who said the store was on fire. A longtime customer saw the blaze and used a Von Dutch fire extinguisher to help put it out.

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Goldman had long teased his team about selling fire extinguishers. There were about 30 decorative extinguishers inside the gutted Melrose shop Sunday morning.

“It saved the store,” said Goldman, estimating that losses totaled around a quarter of a million dollars in merchandise.

Shortly after noon Sunday, workers from the city’s Department of Building and Safety came in shortly after noon to assess the structure and yellow-tagged the store, meaning it needs further inspection before it can be cleared to reopen.


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