A Q&A with Linnaea Holgers James, owner of Artisan's Gallery, one of the 18 businesses vandalized during the May 1 riots
Last week we heard from Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Ryan Coonerty and City Coucilmember Lynn Robinson on what the council is doing to address the recent acts of violence in town and what residents can do to help keep the community safe. Since then, Coonerty, Robinson and Councilmember Cynthia Mathews announced several further actions the city is taking to address the destruction, including allocating $5,000 from the council's special project fund to create a reward fund for gathering information about the recent gang-related shootings and downtown violence. They also held a special meeting for Downtown Association members on Wednesday, May 5 at the Santa Cruz Police Department.
This week we sit down with business owner Linnaea Holgers James, owner of Artisan's Gallery on Pacific Avenue, for the first of a three part series that profiles the experiences of business owners as they deal with the aftermath.
Good Times: How long have you owned Artisan’s?
I’ve worked here 17 and a half years, and I bought the business last February. It was quite a year to take over ownership between the recession and all of the issues that have been happening downtown.
What was your experience like working at a downtown business before this?
I started working here right after the  earthquake, so in some ways I feel like nothing can surprise me. Artisan’s had its windows broken when there was violence after New Years in the early ’90s—we were located next door but the same window was broken [that was broken this time]. In terms of safety and the way I feel down here, I’m pretty tough about it—not much rattles me. But this definitely did rattle me.
Walk me through your experience on the night of the riots. How did you find out? What did you do?
My alarm company called me at 11:07 and told me there were glass detections on the window and that there was rioting and the police had told First Alarm and business owners not to come downtown. So, of course, immediately my husband and I came downtown. When we got to Artisan’s we parked right out front. There was no sign of police or people, so we got to cleaning up and trying to figure out where the police were.
What was your interaction with the police?
There was a group of them congregating in front of Cinema 9 and I walked up to them and said, “Hey, is anyone going to come and check on my business or protect the stores down here?” At that point I didn’t see any other business owners, I didn’t see anyone looking out for the stores. Urban Outfitters was wide open, so was Dell Williams. They said, “Lives first, property second. We’re not going to come to you.”
I was very discouraged at how the information was getting relayed. It seemed like everyone I talked to had a different answer. I asked for caution tape to put up because I was worried about the glass cutting someone, and nobody knew where to get anything. It didn’t have an organized feel, or that anyone knew the right thing to do.
What were your feelings in the following days?
I was really surprised because I knew I was one of the first people down here, but I didn’t realize how much so. A lot of people didn’t know until the next morning. I have to say thank you to First Alarm, which got the word out because it wasn’t getting out otherwise. The police were too overwhelmed to contact everyone.
Did you feel unfairly targeted?
This store is about as small as you get. That was the most disturbing part to me: not that I would want this destruction for any business, but I felt overly sensitive because we are such a small, locally owned store. We carry things from local artists and everything is American made, and I feel like the message of our business is a positive one. There’s no “corporate” here. That was a lot of my initial upset feelings—that it was like we were kicked when we were already down. I’ve since realized that they weren’t targeting us.
What has the response been from customers?
Everyone really wanted to find someone to blame this on, and not having an answer to tell them—and still not having an answer to tell them—is what’s hard for people. There’s no specific person to blame. That is what’s making me ready to move on.
Also, I had a display of pottery in the window that all broke, so I took the broken pieces and arranged it around a vase of sunflowers. I got a very positive response both on Facebook and from customers coming into the store saying it was a nice artistic expression of doing something positive with the negative. That was very helpful for me.
Looking ahead, what would you like to see done to curb these sorts of problems?
We’ve gone through the earthquake; we’ve gone through violence like this before in the ’90s; we’re going to have to go through it in some form or another again. It’s about keeping everyone alert and prepared. I think that’s why I was so disappointed in how it turned out—I felt like ‘we’ve been through this before, we should have done better.’
I don’t envy the situation the police have been in, it’s a really rough road they’ve had with staffing. But we [business owners] struggle with the perception of safety and making people feel comfortable down here, and I really encourage the police to work on the perception of their presence down here—of having officers walk the street, and letting people know they are there.
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