Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In the Wake of Violence, Small Oakland Businesses Stay Positive

By Whitney Phaneuf
Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Cortt Dunlap, the owner and manager of downtown Oakland's Awaken Cafe, said he happened to stay late last Saturday to check out the local bands playing the venue. That night, hours after George Zimmerman's not-guilty verdict was announced in Florida, Dunlap watched as protesters gathered outside and said he occasionally cheered them on. At one point, he turned to a worried customer and reassured him by saying the protest was just “typical Oakland." Two second later, at 11 p.m., a masked man hit the cafe's front window with "a blunt object," shattering about half the glass and "terrifying everyone," according to Dunlap. But, despite glass hitting a few patrons, no one was hurt and the band played on.

Since that night, Dunlap has been inundated with questions about the incident.

"People want to know whether we feel victimized as a small business, people want to hear me come out against that type of protest," Dunlap said. But the longtime Oakland resident and business owner explained that his broken window, and the dozen others smashed in Oakland since Saturday, is not an easily simplified issue. "All sides of this debate — it’s so complex and nuanced. I’m sympathetic to people in the streets, where the emotions are coming from people destroying things [toward] the businesses, the OPD, the system. Our community isn’t so fragile that it can’t experience these little blow ups. It’s firmly entrenched in Oakland and there’s room for it all."

Awaken Cafe's window was fixed on Tuesday morning by the City of Oakland, which owns the building, but while it was shattered, Dunlap posted a sign to explain his sentiments: "This window will be fixed later today. When will the US Justice System?"

After Awaken Cafes windows were shattered during protests on Saturday night, owner Cortt Dunlap posted a response.
  • Awaken Cafe
  • After Awaken Cafe's windows were shattered during protests on Saturday night, owner Cortt Dunlap posted a response.

It's one among many ways that local business owners have attempted to redirect the dialogue and provide non-violent outlets for the community to express its aggression.

Oakland T-shirt outpost Oaklandish also had its windows shattered on Saturday night, just after midnight, according to Natalie Nadimi, community engagement manager for the company. Nadimi called the damage "significant," with three out of the store's five windows shattered, plus the glass door (a repair estimate is pending). She said it's unclear from surveillance tape whether the vandals were masked, but that it shows one person kicking in the glass and another hitting it with "a skateboard or hammer." It all happened within a minute and the tape shows protestors rushing in to try to stop it. The store has continued to operate under normal business hours.

Directly across the street from Oaklandish, Betti Ono Gallery responded on Sunday by inviting people to post their thoughts, feelings, and artwork in the gallery, and Uptown shoe store SoleSpace launched an exhibit of community art called "To Trayvon, from Oakland — with Love & Rage."

SoleSpaces exhibit To Trayvon, from Oakland — with Love & Rage.
  • SoleSpace Facebook
  • SoleSpace's exhibit 'To Trayvon, from Oakland — with Love & Rage.'

Youth Radio, which educates and trains local youth in digital media, had its sidewalk-to-ceiling windows smashed on Monday night, according to its blog. Nadimi said Oaklandish and Youth Radio got together on Tuesday to quickly launch a new T-shirt design that will include "a snapshot of different buildings in Oakland with headphones on them to represent how Youth Radio serves the community." All profits generated by the T-shirt will go directly to help with window repairs. The T-shirt will be available online for pre-sale this week.

"I can’t imagine Youth Radio was targeted for being Youth Radio," Nadimi said. "I don’t think there was a lot of thinking behind it."

Among the worst incidents during Monday night's protests involved a waiter at Uptown restaurant Flora being struck in the head with a hammer by a masked vandal. Flora updated via Twitter that the server is recovering after a night in the ER.

Update: The Flora server, Drew Cribley, told The Chronicle that "he sympathized with protesters and their right to voice outrage, yet feared the violence would overshadow their goals." Cribley has three cuts on his face, a black eye, and a swollen cheek, but said he plans to return to work on Thursday.

Based on news reports from KQED, the Contra Costa Times, the San Jose Mercury News, and The Chronicle, here is a list of small businesses whose windows have been broken during the protests:

Awaken Cafe
Bar Dogwood
Youth Radio

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