SF Chronicle: Oakland businesses again brace for breakage

Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle - Vandals loot the grocery store Smart and Final after vandalizing the front and breaking the windows during a protest

Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle - Vandals loot the grocery store Smart and Final after vandalizing the front and breaking the windows during a protest

It has come to a point where Alexeis Filipello considers smashed windows a cost of running a bar in downtown Oakland.

Since opening Dogwood in February 2011, Filipello has replaced her 10-foot-wide windows three times: once after the 2011 Occupy Oakland protests and twice during the 2014 Ferguson protests. Each replacement, she said, cost about $2,500, money that came from her pockets.

Other than a few scratches, her windows were spared during the raucous November protests following Donald Trump’s election — but with his inauguration just a few days away, all she can do is hope her windows are shown some mercy once again.

“They just always pick on these buildings, and they have no idea what is happening inside of them or who the people are that run it,” she said of the rioters in downtown Oakland who so often use protests and marches as an opportunity.

In anticipation of the inauguration protests, many small businesses are expecting a scene that unfolds in Oakland several times a year: a well-intentioned evening demonstration that a small group of people turns into an unruly riot that lasts well into the night.

And when the noise clears, businesses are often left with shattered glass, graffiti-covered storefronts, thousands of dollars in lost revenue and big deductibles from their insurance companies.

“It’s highly frustrating,” Filipello said.

An Oakland insurance agent — who declined to provide his name because his firm did not allow him to speak to the media — said there has been a significant uptick in calls over the last few weeks from downtown businesses inquiring about their insurance policies or purchasing new coverage.

Businesses have been weighing their options since the election, he said, as they are expecting the coming protests to be even more turbulent.

Several protests are already planned for this weekend, with thousands expected to participate. More than 25,000 people said on Facebook that they will join the Women’s March in Oakland, while another 23,000 signed up for the Resist Trump — #OccupyInauguration movement hosted by the Socialist Alternative Bay Area group. The organizers of these demonstrations say they will be peaceful and family-friendly.

Since 2014, Oakland has experienced at least 205 unpermitted and permitted marches, according to the city administrator’s office. There were more than 60 reports of vandalism or broken windows during the recent Trump protest, which some city officials described as some of the worst damage Oakland has experienced.

“After the November protests, we were really saddened by how many businesses were hurt, which was counterintuitive to what people were protesting,” said Barbara Leslie, president and CEO of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, who added that 85 percent of Oakland’s economy is made up of small businesses.

Despite being a hotbed for demonstrations, Oakland has no established fund for helping the businesses affected by them. In the past, the mayor’s office has partnered with the East Bay Community Foundation to help businesses recover from various protests — but the fund has not been significantly active since the 2011 Occupy Oakland protests, said Dan Quigley, the foundation’s senior program officer.

The Oakland Indie Alliance, a group of more than 50 independently owned Oakland restaurants, sent a letter to Mayor Libby Schaaf and new Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick that said the businesses are “deeply concerned” about the protests planned for after the inauguration.

“We have become the local punching bag for these protests and it is unhelpful and unfair,” the letter said, in addition to calling for a “better balance of free speech and commercial interests.”

Maria Alderete, the owner of Luka’s Taproom & Lounge, said the city has “never offered a dime” to help her fix any damage resulting from a protest. Her windows have been bashed in at least five times in the past few years, and she’s shouldered the damages herself to avoid an increased insurance premium, she said.

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle - Michelle Tolbert, (left) enjoys a beverage at the Dogwood bar in downtown in Oakland, Ca., as bartender Irene Franzen prepares a drink on Friday Jan. 13, 2017.

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle - Michelle Tolbert, (left) enjoys a beverage at the Dogwood bar in downtown in Oakland, Ca., as bartender Irene Franzen prepares a drink on Friday Jan. 13, 2017.

Most insurance companies offer basic safeguards for clients that find themselves victims of civil disobedience, said Gerard Mannion, a Bay Area trial lawyer. But, businesses that file repeat claims for the same thing may eventually be seen as a liability, he said.

Repeat claims for damages — such as vandalism or shattered windows — could lead insurance companies to either change the policy to exclude the recurring problem, increase the rate for clients, or just drop them all together, he said.

“These are the hidden costs of the protests,” Mannion said. “It’s not just a broken window, but you might be taking away a guy’s insurance coverage.”

Dogwood’s Filipello, for example, left her previous insurance company after it stopped covering her broken windows after she filed repeated claims.

Some businesses board up their windows whenever they expect a protest, but that can get pricey for mom-and-pop shops. According to Vortex Doors, a San Leandro repair business, it can cost $1,500 to $2,000 for a business to board up its storefront.

Travis Kuhl, the owner of Kuhl Frames + Art, said he likely would have left downtown Oakland by now if he did not have metal doors to protect his shop at night.

Officials have been holding meetings with businesses over the past few days and suggesting a list of preparations they could make before this weekend. That is routine protocol by the city whenever it expects a demonstration.

But, regardless of the occasional outreach, many small businesses still lose when protests roil downtown — whether it’s from a broken window, decreased foot traffic or the lost revenue from shutting down early.

Susanné Breen, whose Downtown Wine Merchants bar is right next to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza — a major congregating spot for demonstrations — has accepted protests as an inevitable factor of being in downtown Oakland.

“Every time something goes down in America, we’re at the center of it,” Breen said one Thursday afternoon during the Trump election protests.

Her bar, which is usually packed during happy hour, was desolate that November afternoon.

But, despite having her windows bashed during a round of Ferguson protests in 2014, she chooses not to turn the lights off, board up or close early whenever she anticipates an unruly demonstration.

Instead, she takes a different approach: She keeps the lights on, windows bare and just continues pouring wine.

Trisha Thadani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: tthadani@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @TrishaThadani