Excitement permeated the Beverly Hills business community last weekend, as the County of L.A. lifted restrictions in place since mid-March. Restaurants were preparing to host in-house diners. Salons were calling patrons back to book appointments. Word of June 1 targeted reopening dates spread across social media.
Then came the May 30 protests that swept through Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, the Fairfax District and beyond.
“There is frustration and aggravation, obviously. We’ve been quarantined for three months. Businesses were ready to get going. Our community was ready to welcome people and all this happened,” Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Johnson told the Courier.
Johnson conducted an emergency board meeting on Zoom June 3 with Mayor Lester Friedman to address concerns about safety, curfews and getting businesses back on track.
The Courier reached out to a number of those businesses, many still reeling from the events on May 30.
Frank Murphy, General Manager of Mercedes of Beverly Hills on Wilshire Boulevard, was anxious to bring back employees from months of COVID-19 furloughs. But all of that optimism quickly dissipated on May 30. “We had several hundred people out in front of the store who decided to pick up stones from our display and start throwing them through our front showroom glass,” Murphy told the Courier.
The first order of duty for Murphy was to protect the employees and customers. “We quickly moved our inventory off the showroom floor and got it to a safe space.
We were gone by 4 p.m. and made arrangements to have plywood put up over the broken glass,” he said.
Someone in the crowd took a video of the staff moving the cars quickly and it was later erroneously reported that the vehicles were stolen. “None of that happened,” confirmed Murphy.
Murphy feels the Beverly Hills Police Department did all that was humanly possible under the circumstances. “They were overwhelmed, and it all happened so quickly, there was nothing they could have done,” he said.
A few blocks away from Murphy on Canon Drive, Giacomino Drago decided to take matters into his own hands at Via Alloro.
“It started out very peaceful. People were walking in Beverly Hills with little kids,” Drago told the Courier. But then around 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., we started seeing the vandalism and writing on the walls and everything being broken.”
Drago realized there were not enough police, so he hired a private security firm, Global Vision.
“They immediately started to work together with the police,” he said. “They arrested four people at the store in front of Rite Aid. The police did whatever they were able to do but were outnumbered,” said Drago.
Family owned and operated Xi’an restaurant has been on Canon Drive for 25 years. On May 30, owner Vicky Mense and her employees had just finished moving patio furniture inside when a group of six to eight protestors approached the front window. “At that very second, they were ready to break in. We locked eyes and it was very intense. My mind went blank and all I could think of was safety,” she told the Courier.
“We all fled out the back and locked the door. I didn’t even have time to take the cash. We were in danger and didn’t know what they were going to do or what they would use to harm us, so we didn’t want to confront them,” Mense said.
She witnessed half a dozen people breaking the glass and taking computers and alcohol from Caffé Roma next door as she called 911.
Caffe Roma manager, Michele Riviello, told the Courier, “At the moment we have been looted and we can’t operate. Right now, we have no idea if we will reopen. I don’t know if I have enough energy to carry on. They really destroyed me. They took everything.”
Johnson told the Courier that he’s heard “extremes from both sides” about the BHPD’s response on Saturday. “We had people applauding the City, but we also got plenty of criticism, and I understand that. The BHPD arrested quite a few people. They
were in a no-win situation, as was all law enforcement that day. The LAPD received a lot of criticism. At the end of the day, we had no fires. We had minimal damage. In the big picture, the graffiti was gone within 24 hours. I applaud the City for that.”
Nearby, in West Hollywood, protests and vandalism continued well into the week. As of press time, the West Hollywood Design District has come up with a plan for protecting property but still keeping some establishments open.
“We are boarding with access,” salon owner Marco Pelusi told the Courier. Pelusi has joined his neighbors from The Assembly coffeeshop, Hedley’s restaurant, Duroque designs and Gelato Festival in nailing plywood up in front of their shops and restaurants while remaining open for business until curfew.
The “boarding with access” concept might not work for many Beverly Hills storefronts. “We are luxury retailers and if you can’t even see our sign and come through the front door to meet you, this is not the kind of experience we want to be able to offer,” said Rodeo Drive Committee Vice President Kathy Davoudi-Gohari.
Her thoughts remain positive on how the community has pulled together and relationships have become stronger. “We are relying on information, resources, and assistance from each other with even non-Rodeo Drive committee members. This is the time where you talk about community,” she told the Courier.
On a positive note, Beverly Hills restaurants may be able to utilize private parking spaces or patios to extend dining areas. Beverly Hills City Manager George Chavez spoke encouragingly on the topic at the June 3 Chamber of Commerce Zoom meeting. “The city can issue a special-events permit. We can make it easy and our interest is to try and get you guys up and running,” said Chavez.
Discussion at the Zoom meeting also included the use of parking spaces in front of restaurants on Canon Drive and the development of a parklet with tables for extra outdoor dining space. “This could help stimulate business for the next six months and create an outdoor excitement and energy like a European Boulevard,” observed Chris Bonbright of Café Gratitude.
Johnson had no doubt that the City will overcome the events of this past week and the past several months. “We have to be realistic. We will lose businesses. There will be empty storefronts. But we will fill those spaces. We will survive. We are Beverly Hills,” he said.
For more information and assistance: www.beverlyhills.org/support.
Additional reporting by Ana Figueroa