Velvet Underground finds strength in community (Third in a series.)
In the May 6 issue, we heard from City Councilmembers Ryan Coonerty and Lynn Robinson about the city’s reaction to the May 1 riots, and last week we spoke with Linnaea Holgers James, owner of Artisan’s Gallery, one of the 18 businesses that were vandalized. This week, we continue the conversation with Diane Towns, owner of Velvet Underground.
While the specifics of what occurred on May 1 in Downtown Santa Cruz remain a patchwork of speculation and finger pointing, the damage that was done and the community that was affected remains clear to anyone who walks down the north end of Pacific Avenue. Businesses, both local and otherwise, suffered tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage. People like Diane Towns, owner of locally owned and operated Velvet Underground, were left to pick up the pieces.
After receiving a phone call at 1 a.m. informing her about the destruction that had unfolded, Towns made the trip downtown to survey the damage and protect her store until morning. When she arrived, she discovered a large rock had been thrown through one of her storefront windows and saw a stripped mannequin lying in the middle of the street. “It was just pretty shocking,” says Towns. “My husband and I stayed here and cleaned until five in the morning. We needed to get some rest—we had to be back here by eight—so First Alarm left a truck out front with someone to watch the door for us to get a couple of hours sleep.”
A part of the downtown business community since 1994, Velvet Underground has experienced its fair share of small-scale vandalism and Santa Cruz’s sometimes-explosive eccentrics before, says Towns, but nothing of this magnitude or severity. Those who participated in the riot left spray-painted slogans like “Destroy What Destroys” in their path, but Jasmine Glenn, Towns’ granddaughter, says that if this was politically motivated it was misguided to say the least.
“This [store] has been a part of my life my entire life. It felt like my family had been attacked,” says Glenn. “We’re not a corporation. We’re not Urban Outfitters, we don’t have nation-wide locations that can absorb this. We’re a locally owned business. As it is we have to compete against corporations.
“I don’t know what your plan was but you’re going after local business,” she continues, speaking to the unknown culprits. “You’re hurting our community. You’re not making a statement, that’s just ridiculous.”
Support and condolences flowed in the following day with notes left at the base of the shattered window. People who had never entered Towns’ store came in to buy something to provide some financial support. Others simply gave donations. “It’s been just amazing,” Town says. “I’ve felt such community support that it’s really made me cry to have people be so loving.”
After a suggestion from a customer, Glenn organized to have a mural painted on the boarded-up window. The slogan she chose is the attitude she says she is taking toward the situation: “No more hurt, no more pain. Love and understanding is all that’s left to gain.” It was a rebuttal statement for those that created the needed for the painting on wood.
Since the riot, the Santa Cruz City Council authorized filling eight vacant police officer positions and a fund has been created by the Downtown Association to help businesses cover the costs of repair. Through this fund, along with assistance she has been receiving from the community, Towns hopes to fund most, if not all, of the cost of replacing the specially fitted storefront window (which is not covered by insurance).
Despite all that has happened, Glenn says she views the experience as a demonstration of how resilient Santa Cruz can be and is trying to remain positive.
“We are really thankful to our community,” she says. “For the 10 people that were involved in this I think there were hundreds [of the demonstrators] that weren’t and who love this town and that were really upset by this. We’re still a good community; we’re still a good town. I think it’s amazing the way we come together after stuff like this.”