One year after the devastating Downtown looting, local businesses continue to feel the physical and psychological scars.
For some the material damage wrought was too much and they shuttered doors forever. For others, the repair process took weeks, months, or even a full year and came at the cost of personal and business savings.
Mentally and emotionally, owners remain haunted by thoughts of ‘why us? why here? and why weren’t we protected?’. At the same time, several reported feeling a new sense of love and support, saying that the time and money locals gave to help repair Downtown forever changed their view of Santa Monica.
As the last paint jobs are carried out, security cameras installed, and insurance claims tucked away, the impacts of May 31, 2020 linger on.
“The recovery is so much more than what is visible to people’s eyes. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” said Alice Sun, the owner of Sunny Optometry, which only reopened in its original storefront two weeks ago.
Not only did Sun lose thousands in destroyed and stolen property, but her office was also heavily damaged by the fire that destroyed the Japanese restaurant Sake House. While she was able to temporarily operate in a different office from December onwards, Sun estimates that the total economic damage from May 31 approaches the $1 million mark.
“It’s not just about the time and energy that we had to extend on top of trying to keep our business open during the pandemic,” said Sun, describing her recovery process. “It’s also the PTSD that we have personally suffered,” adding that she no longer feels safe Downtown.
Ultimately, Sun is grateful that her business survived as many others found the one-two punch of the pandemic and looting too much to handle.
Just down the street Salon Tru fought valiantly to hang on before ultimately closing in October.
After having their windows smashed in and their expensive styling equipment stolen, the team was able to repair the store in time for a late June reopening. One day later, Newson announced that all salons must shut down in response to the summer Covid-19 surge.
When they could reopen in September, the capacity limit was set to 25 percent and the salon found it impossible to turn a profit.
Massimo Guerrini, the salon’s Artistic Director, still laments that the police were not able to do more to protect Downtown.
“The riots started in Downtown LA three or four days before they got here,” said Guerrini. “There was the National Guard at their disposal and they could have protected Downtown Santa Monica by establishing a perimeter.”
Chef Andrew Kirschner of Tar & Roses also still harbors frustration towards the City’s response.
“Literally hundreds of people came into the restaurant. It went on for hours and the disappointing part of the whole thing was the police were out there and they didn’t do anything,” said Kirschner.
It took almost six months to repair Tar & Roses. Marble table tops were smashed, light fixtures destroyed, and wine bottles hurled so hard they impregnated the drywall.
“There was definitely not just the physical aspect of the riot, but also the psychological effect of the way Santa Monica was hit in this manner and that there was really no protection,” said William Bubar of Bubar’s Jewelers, a family run business that has operated in Santa Monica since 1945.
Bubar’s luckily escaped the brunt of the damage as it had a strong security grate, but the store still feels the financial impact of that day. Bubar kept the store covered in wooden boards and open by appointment only until after the election, due to fear of further unrest.
Foot traffic remains incredibly slow in Bubar’s block of 4th St, where many other storefronts lie vacant. Collectively this reduction in business threatens the future of the 75-year-old business.
Just down the street, the Homeopathic Pharmacy also recently celebrated its 75th birthday after being completely torn about by looters.
“There was a feeling that day like ‘why, just plain old why did the people do it and why wasn’t our little place protected?” said Pharmacist Pam Tarlow. “And then another feeling of who else is suffering and how much more people are going to suffer because of this?”
For months after the looting the pharmacy continued serving customers with curbside pick-up. The floors, ceiling, and shelving was all replaced and now people are welcome to enjoy service in the spiffy new interior.
“I think we really rallied as a community,” said Manager Safina Rao. “It just showed me what you can build from tragedy, how you can come back stronger and still be standing.”
Kristen Parraz, the Co-owner Hi De Ho Comics, recalls being blown away by the community support following the looting. Locals streamed in to help clean up the store and raised over $40,000 on GoFundMe to assist with the repairs.
“It made me aware of how close knit a community Santa Monica really is and how people were so willing to come together and lend a hand to the small businesses that are part of their home,” said Parraz.
While there is no question that the looters of May 31 left a lasting imprint on the City, not enough attention is given to the mark left by the people of June 1.
Ordinary citizens who went business to business sweeping glass, removing trash, and offering a supportive ear to devastated owners played a huge role in the aftermath of the Downtown riots. So did the staff of Downtown Santa Monica, who walked business owners through the process of filing insurance claims and kept them informed of any relief grants they could seek.
“After the storm came the light as our community banded together in the days following to clean up and assist our downtown merchants in their recovery,” DTSM Board of Directors Chair Rob Rader. “This spontaneous effort demonstrated Santa Monica’s resiliency and strength, and allowed many downtown businesses to rebuild. I’ve never been prouder of Santa Monica’s spirit.”