Multiple businesses in downtown Portland were damaged Wednesday evening resulting in law enforcement declaring a riot.
Some business owners expressed frustration as allies who support ongoing protests against racism and police brutality while still trying to keep storefronts intact during the coronavirus pandemic.
The block of South 10th Avenue between Southwest Harvey Milk and Southwest Washington streets saw multiple local storefronts damaged including Wildfang, a well-known feminist clothing store; Tender Loving Empire, a local music label and gift shop; and Woonwinkel, a gift and home goods store.
Kristin Van Buskirk, owner of Woonwinkel, said her business was somewhat prepared, as it had some leftover wood boards from the last time it was vandalized back in June. Van Buskirk said the business only had one window broken Wednesday night, and there was no looting.
She said she and others headed down to the storefront Wednesday evening to survey the damage and board up the windows, and multiple protesters assisted.
“People kind of just jumped right in to help,” Van Buskirk said of the protesters. “They just jumped right in and literally sweated through the next hour with us to get our boards back in place.”
“I know that the vast majority of Portlanders are still those people,” she said, “the people who are protesting peacefully and want to make things better and want progress.”
Wednesday evening saw a clear divide between activists — specifically Black Lives Matter protesters and anti-capitalist and anarchist demonstrators. While Black Lives Matter protesters gathered near the waterfront, the separate group broke off moving into downtown, breaking windows along the way.
“One group demonstrated peacefully for hours by the waterfront,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement Thursday morning. “Unfortunately, a second group of self-styled anarchist protesters, some armed, also marched downtown last night, with no discernible goal other than to cause violence and vandalism.”
The Portland Business Alliance, the region’s largest chamber of commerce, said Thursday morning that it is working to assess the damage.
“I find it beyond comprehension that anyone would continue to think that the destruction of our small businesses in downtown Portland is somehow acceptable or represents the exercise of free speech,” Andrew Hoan, president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, said in a statement.
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Wednesday night that vandalism was sporadic throughout the downtown area.
“Indiscriminate destruction solves nothing,” Brown continued. “These are acts of privilege.”
Van Buskirk, of Woonwinkel, said the protesters who are committing vandalism are a blow to small businesses already suffering from impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The few destructive protesters among the vast majority of peaceful protesters are a giant frustration because in the midst of trying to save a business and keep people employed and, in my case, parenting during a pandemic all at once, we’re also having to fight with our allies,” Van Buskirk said. “I’m an ally to this movement and it’s frustrating to me that I would have to fear my allies in the midst of all this other turmoil.”
In a press release sent out Wednesday night, the Portland Business Alliance encouraged Portlanders to continue to support local, small businesses, offering a list of open businesses downtown. Van Buskirk echoed that request.
“I think people probably already know it, but small businesses are failing left and right,” Van Buskirk said. “A few of us that are left can probably survive, have a good chance of surviving maybe, if our customers support us and if Portlanders pledge to shop small and local for the holidays. I hope that people will do that.”
Woonwinkel, like some of the other damaged downtown businesses, states diversity, equity and justice are big parts of its values. According to its website, the store is aiming to source 15% of its products from Black-owned companies. The store also makes monthly donations to local, progressive, nonprofit organizations, it states.
“To be clear, Black lives are a lot more important than my business,” Van Buskirk said, “but the work that my business does and that I do and that I know my neighboring businesses do to support Black lives and to support that movement, those efforts stop and they halt when we have vandalism and destruction like this.”