When a friend from the Martinez Yacht Club walked past Haute Stuff, a Main Street restaurant, at 8 a.m. Wednesday, he saw nothing amiss. But when owner Dave Krider arrived at 8:30 a.m. that morning, he found his front door smashed.
That’s not what he needed while his restaurant has been impacted heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic and Contra Costa County’s health department restrictions on business operations.
Nothing was stolen, and the vandal apparently didn’t make entry into the building, Krider said. The window still has his giant bear, placed there in participation with the trend to put teddy bears in windows to bring cheer during the continued shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders.
Martinez Police Department has arrested a suspect in what Capt. Beth Johnson described as a “window smash burglary” at the Contra Costa County Recorder’s Office.
The individual has not been identified, but is a “person of interest” in the recent rash of window vandalism, Johnson said.
“This is so crazy,” Krider said. What saddens him is he’s not the only Main Street business to be vandalized for no apparent reason.
Luigi’s, a longtime popular deli, has had its windows scratched severely. Attic Child Furniture, Reviver Foods and Old Towne Antiques have been similarly victimized.
Krider is known for helping the Martinez community, including making donations and providing food catering to charity events. The COVID-19 executive orders have put his catering business on hold, and like other restaurants, he’s trying to make ends meet through carry-out orders.
He quickly posted to Martinez Facebook group about the smashed door, saying “No stores on Main Street can afford this since we all are struggling to keep our doors open – and now this??”
Although some followers suggested starting a crowdfunding account to defray Krider’s costs, he said he isn’t looking for donations. However, one passer-by dropped in and insisted he keep the $50 she gave him.
What Krider hopes is more people will help keep eyes on downtown businesses and will tell police of any suspicious activities they may see.
Wednesday was an uncharacteristically slow day for the restauranteur, who suspects many usual customers thought he was closed. He hasn’t boarded up the door, but has its glass secured with tape.
But the broken door caught plenty of attention. Cars slowed by the building at 521 Main St. so occupants could get a photograph. ‘I guess I’m famous,” he said wryly.
With few customers, Krider decided to call it an early day. “I’m going to go home and regroup,” he said.
Mayor Rob Schroder was sympathetic with Krider’s situation. In addition to being a city official, Schroder owns an insurance firm on Main Street. From his window, he gets “a front row seat” to the heart of Martinez’s central business district.
“It is frustrating for merchants,” Schroder said. “Dave’s lost 100 percent of his catering business.” In addition, such vandalism is depressing when a business owner does a lot for the local community, he said. “As mayor, it makes me angry.”
The series of vandalism incidents trouble him. He watched Martinez recover from the recent recession and transform itself into a destination downtown, with specialty boutiques, a variety of restaurants and craft beer breweries that were active before the pandemic struck. “Now they’re on life support,” he said.
The vandalism incidents are “physically, emotionally and mentally destructive,” he said.
He and Councilmember Lara DeLaney have met with the city’s two business organizations, Martinez Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Martinez to discuss a variety of topics, from helping downtown businesses and others recover to how the city’s own declining revenues might impact the organizations; operations.
The downtown has seen some recent improvements, he said. A woman who had lived in the Main Street Plaza for two years has better living quarters, and those who used to join her have moved elsewhere. On the other hand, the city has seen more graffiti tagging lately.
Kara Johnsen, executive director of Main Street Martinez, said her organization also knows of the increase in vandalism in the downtown area in the past few weeks.
“This is incredibly upsetting and tragic that our businesses are taking this alongside many other hardships incurred with the pandemic,” she said.
“Main Street continues to work closely with the City as new issues develop the further along we get into this pandemic. This is uncharted territory for everyone right now and we are working daily to keep up with the rapid changes and solutions to them,” she said.
“We are in dark times right now, but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Main Street has two web pages designed to help downtown businesses at this time, https://downtownmartinez.org/covid-19-emergency-relief to help them get through the pandemic, and https://downtownmartinez.org/support-local, a link that lists local businesses that are open during the stay at home orders, so residents may patronize them.
She said the past two months have brought the downtown business community together, “and we are stronger than ever. We will get through this and continue to move forward on our downtown revitalization efforts. Until then, Main Street remains committed to our downtown business community, and will continue to support them in every possible way.”
Martinez Police used its social media site to acknowledge the “recent uptick in window smashes downtown.”
Detectives will be looking for evidence to see if the suspect arrested Wednesday morning in connection with the Recorder’s Office burglary also might be responsible for the smashed and damaged windows and doors of downtown businesses, Johnson said He’s been booked in the county jail in Martinez, she said.
Johnson said the unnamed suspect is known by police, but at this time, there’s not enough evidence to charge the man in connection with the other vandalism incidents. “It is still being actively investigated,” she said.
Martinez Police Department has been operating for two months on a COVID-19 deployment schedule to give employees safer distance to prevent the spread of the virus and to have staff available should someone become sick, she said.
“The PD is returning to our normal patrol deployment this Sunday. That will increase the number of officers on duty, affording us the ability to focus on extra patrol in the downtown district,” Johnson said. “We are bringing in officers on overtime to provide that extra patrol in the meantime.”
She joined Krider in asking the public who has information on the vandalism incidents or who sees suspicious activity to contact the police department immediately. The non-emergency number is 925-372-3440, and for emergencies, 9-1-1.
“We truly sympathize with our community partners,” she said, “and we are committed to keeping our citizens and businesses safe, especially during such a difficult time.”
(photo courtesy of Kevin Murray)