Editor's Note: The article referenced in the following column was not an editorial, but a recent opinion piece penned by Source columnist Bruce Miller and represented his opinion, not those of the newspaper. The Source has not taken a position about downtown loitering and panhandling. The Source has and always will be a major supporter of local, independent businesses and a vital downtown core.
What does The Source have against downtown merchants?
I'm writing in reaction to your latest negative editorial about downtown Bend merchants. Recently, you derided our complaints about panhandlers downtown, now you've done the same regarding our problems with "kids." Why are you even writing about merchant complaints when you deem the complaints so unworthy? Could it be because you feel you have to stand up for absolutely anything you call "alternative," even when alternative means hurtful, disrespectful, threatening or even criminal?
As a downtown merchant, I have nothing against kids or any other age or socioeconomic group. What I have a problem with is anyone who negatively affects my business and the general atmosphere downtown. Bend is a tourist economy. The downtown merchants are a big part of making Bend a place that people return to time and time again. Those of us who are left standing in the wake of economic meltdown work incredibly hard to stay afloat and certainly have a right to address any issues we feel are impacting business downtown. Are we supposed to address things only when someone has been "mugged, raped and stabbed"? No. Are we supposed to complain every time we see a "kid" with a plug through his nose? Of course not. We address issues in between those two extremes, sometimes in a gray area that doesn't allow us to bother the police with an official call.
Last week I had a group of four "kids" (we're really talking mid 20s) sitting up against my storefront, legs stretched across the sidewalk, swearing loudly, displaying a panhandling sign, and holding a pitbull. I let them hang out for two hours, not wanting to hassle them for just being young people and then get my windows bashed in. Again, most of the time we can't call the police because the kids aren't technically breaking any law, and because we don't want to risk any retaliation. I finally called the police when they all began smoking (which you can't within 10 feet of a business) and audibly joking among themselves that "we're probably killing business," as I watched my potential customers try to step over the kids' legs and walk out into the street to avoid the dog. Later, after the cop left, I cleaned up their trash and swept up all of their butts. The next day, I had new graffiti on my window. Coincidence?
So according to you, I'm being some sort of old "burgher" who can't deal with young people who might look different. I really don't care what they look like. I care about their actions. All we ask for is respectful actions and common decency toward others and toward businesses. Why would you hold that against us? You say "somehow it's always the young folks who take the rap for causing the 'disturbance'." You say that middle-aged and old people can be obnoxious, too. Next time I have a group of 60-somethings hanging out in front of my shop for hours on end trying purposely to kill business, I'll be sure to let you know. The kids take the rap because they are the ones we witness day in and day out purposely trying to be shocking, obnoxious and threatening. Why don't they realize that no one will give them money when they are, A) smoking, B) holding a scary dog and, C) swearing loudly in front of little tourist kids? Why not be creative and try something like playing an instrument, painting, miming, juggling or whatever else? Then you might actually make a buck as you attract an audience that helps merchants as well. Bring it on! I've got no problem with "alternative" as long as it's positive for all involved. Oh, but wait, then you'd have to write something positive about downtown, and negative sells better doesn't it?
If you were to move The Source Weekly offices down a few blocks, you guys wouldn't last a week in July without joining your fellow downtown businesses to find constructive solutions to issues that affect downtown business. After all, a lot of us advertise with The Source, so these issues affect you, too. Please don't assume we are all just old fuddy duddies who sit around and complain about "kids these days." Believe me, we've got better things to do like riding out the recession. It sure would be easier if we had your support rather than your constant insistence that downtown merchants have problems with anything and everything out of the so-called mainstream. Talk about stereotyping a group of people. Hello pot, this is the kettle calling.
The author is the owner of Bend Bungalow, a downtown retailer specializing in home décor.