Melrose Avenue, one of L.A.'s hippest streets, hit hard by looters
Eli Ventov stood outside his blackened store on Melrose Avenue on Sunday morning. The roof appeared on the verge of collapse, and patches of overcast sky were visible through the ceiling.
The night before, Ventov had stood across the street and watched Reloaded L.A., his business of nearly 12 years, go up in flames. A protester threw a gasoline-filled bottle into the Dr. Martens store a few doors down, and before he knew it, his jewelry and apparel shop had caught fire as well.
Ventov grew teary-eyed Sunday as a friend embraced him and told him he would be OK.
“I can’t believe it,” he said.
Ventov and other business owners on Melrose Avenue in the Fairfax District were forced to take stock Sunday after a night of civil unrest gave way to mayhem.
Thousands of protesters converged on the iconic shopping district Saturday to protest the killing of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man killed when a white police officer used his knee to pin him to the ground by the neck.
Though most protesters assembled peaceably throughout the day, nighttime brought a level of destruction not seen in Los Angeles since the 1992 riots sparked after the police officers’ acquittal in the beating of Rodney King. Some unleashed long-simmering anger over police brutality by shattering windows and stealing merchandise. Others scrawled graffiti with messages decrying systemic racism. Storefronts along Melrose were torched.
The most violent actions might have been committed by fringe groups, police said.
The morning after, store owners and employees swept glass and paced the sidewalks while discussing next steps with contractors and landlords over the phone. Others stood in exasperation, tears in their eyes.
Small and minority-owned businesses, already devastated by the pandemic-induced closures, were particularly affected by the theft and destruction. Many had just reopened after months of being shuttered.
When Ricky Flores arrived at his clothing store at 7 a.m. Sunday, people were still inside, stealing whatever was left. The alarm was blaring and the security gate was broken. Three televisions had been taken from the wall, clothes and shoes from the shelves.
The store had just reopened on Friday after being closed since March because of the pandemic. Flores and his co-owner, a friend, had been optimistic about reopening.
As Flores swept up glass from the broken windows, onlookers took video and photos of him and the store. He felt like an animal in a zoo he said.
“We’re barely getting over the virus,” Flores said. “It hurts so bad. And then to deal with this?”
Outside Pearls Nail Salon, a fire alarm sounded continuously as LAPD officers and firefighters in masks stood guard.
A Mexican flag hung outside Antonio’s Restaurant. In the window were several signs that read “Black Lives Matter.” Another said, “Caution, maintain social distancing.”
Guillermo Rodriguez, the son-in-law of the owner, stood at the door.
Antonio’s opened for the first time in three months on Saturday. Unable to make much of a profit through takeout orders, the restaurant nearly closed after 50 years in operation.
Later that night, Rodriguez and his 27-year-old son guarded the restaurant’s wooden doors until the sun rose.
“I told my son yesterday, if they break in, that’s it — we close the restaurant forever,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez pleaded with demonstrators wielding baseball bats and hammers. “Please don’t hurt the business,” he said. They kept walking.
Rodney Beckwith, manager of Resist 323 on Melrose, had a similarly close call with protesters on Saturday.
Beckwith, who goes by his artist name, Flewnt, was inside the pop-modern store when he heard people trying to break in. He shoved his table saw against the security door and climbed a ladder to the rooftop.
“It’s a black-dude store, leave it alone,” protesters said as they spotted him. Beckwith stayed up all night.
“I feel them, I’m with them,” Beckwith said the next morning. “But at the same time, I’m protecting a business.”
Lindsay Pierce, owner of the luxury salon and boutique WAX, wasn’t as fortunate. As she monitored her business through security footage on her computer, she saw three young men dart inside the shop’s shattered windows.
The demonstrators immediately disconnected the business’ internet router, cutting off Pierce’s only means to safely monitor her salon. All the electronics were stolen, along with some small merchandise.
“I was just thinking, ‘Please don’t light it on fire,’” Pierce said Sunday morning as friends and workers cleared broken glass. “We have been pouring a lot of money into it, and then we got shut down eight weeks later. So it was just one blow after another.”
For the first time since the civil unrest in 1992, Sandy Chase, 68, was planning to stay overnight in his record store on Sunday.
His business, the Record Collector, was briefly attacked on Saturday. Windows were scuffed and his brick facade was vandalized.
Chase said he empathizes with the demonstrators. He’d hoped that posting a Black Lives Matter sign in his window would help, but it didn’t.
Had it not been for the owner of his neighboring business, who persuaded the group of protesters to abandon their effort, some 500,000 classical and jazz LPs would have been up for grabs, he said.
With his wife in London, the former violinist said he might just lie back in his office recliner just inside the storefront and wait to confront any groups that try to break in through the night.
He plans to use words, he said, not weapons.
“Positive confrontation ... like your parents. ‘No son, you can’t do that, this is why.’ Just reason with them,” he said. “You just have to put yourself on the line.”
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