Soon after Valencia Street businesses were vandalized during a protest last spring, donations started rolling in to help with repairs. To date, however, most of the money has not been claimed.
On April 30, a peaceful pre-May Day gathering at Dolores Park turned violent when a small group of protesters started breaking windows on cars and businesses. The Mission police station was paint-bombed.
Two months later, only two businesses have come forward to claim their share of the two funds that were established: one totalling $10,000 from 204 generous donors, the other $25,000 from Wells Fargo.
Business owners gave various reasons for not claiming their share of the money, including just wanting to move on and feeling that other businesses deserved it more.
The first fund, set up by an individual named Ben Blumenfeld, has distributed money to three businesses — ArtZone, Weston Wear and Property Management Systems — only two of which applied for the money themselves. Blumenfeld still has about $3,000 to distribute, he said in an email.
“Basically most of the businesses either didn’t need/want money or didn’t give us the basic info,” he wrote.
The “basic information” included damage estimates and a copy of the repair bill.
As for Wells Fargo’s $25,000 donation, not one business has applied so far, according to Michelle L. Horneff-Cohen, who is in charge of disbursing the funds.
At least 12 businesses along Valencia, 18th and Mission streets — including Farina restaurant, Tartine Bakery, Weston Wear and Brick and Motor — suffered damages as a result of the protest. Some had shattered windows and broken furniture.
Horneff-Cohen works at Property Management Systems, one of the businesses that suffered the most damage, valued at around $12,000, she said. She decided to take on the task of distributing the funds after a Valencia Corridor Merchants Association meeting where the donation was announced.
At the same meeting, members of the Housing Rights Committee, a group not affiliated with the association, discouraged the merchants from accepting the donation, Horneff-Cohen said. They contended that Wells Fargo is a large corporation that helped cause the foreclosure crisis in San Francisco, and that the funds could be better spent.
There was some discussion among the merchants as to whether to accept the donation, Horneff-Cohen said, but all were in favor. They also agreed on how to divide the money fairly.
The businesses that apply will receive a share proportional to their damages. Insurance, including premiums and deductibles, will not be a factor, said Horneff-Cohen, but businesses must turn in an application that includes receipts for damages.
Although an email has gone out to the merchants’ listserve and the process was announced at the last meeting, no one has yet applied, Horneff-Cohen said.
Cat Mayfield and Katelyn Sullivan, managers at Therapy boutique, said the owners chose not to apply for the funds because their insurance covered the repairs; they insisted that it go to stores that need it more, including smaller mom-and-pop shops.
Plus, said Sullivan, “When it happened, it was a traumatic experience for all of us. We just want to move on.”
Eric Koehler, the manager of ArtZone 461 Gallery near the corner of Valencia and 16th streets, has also put the incident behind him.
The gallery suffered three shattered windows and a broken door, Koehler said. The deductible was $2,500, and that’s exactly what the company received from Blumenfeld’s fund. As for the new Wells Fargo donation, “I’m not going to double dip,” he said, laughing.
Marc Josef, who owns the clothing shop Tradesmen, said that at the time Blumenfeld was offering donations, he was too vulnerable to revisit the situation and provide the required documentation for the more than $2,000 in damages.
He wasn’t aware of the Wells Fargo grant, but said that if funds were still available and he didn’t have to deal with insurance hassles, he’d be happy to submit an application. “I’m thankful,” he said of the donation.
Koehler said he doesn’t understand why others haven’t applied to be reimbursed. “It doesn’t make sense. There are enough other merchants affected by the violence.”
But those who said they didn’t need the money had other ideas as to how it could be used if no one claims it. “Maybe it can go to the street, to bettering community,” said Mayfield. “Or to other charities in the neighborhood.”
Reaching out hasn’t been easy, said Horneff-Cohen. “We don’t have time to go door to door to all the businesses affected.”
She will accept applications until July 31. Until then, she is trying to get the word out through other avenues, like email.
A business will not be able to recoup more than its damages, said Horneff-Cohen. If the fund is not used, the merchants association will need to determine what to do with it.