Billboards and Beethoven

Billboard flak prompts Rouse & Revolt owner to step back, but not out of the fight; 7-Eleven tries new tactic to deter loiterers

It’s been a rough year for Nicholle Haber-Lewis. I remember the first day I met her, in her new shop, Rouse & Revolt, in the Garden Walk mall. It was Nov. 9, 2016, and we were both in shock over the previous day’s events. Fast-forward a bit and the resale clothing shop was succeeding, even taking over an anchor position in the mall facing Main Street.

Then Haber-Lewis got political—she rented a billboard in her store’s name featuring Donald Trump dressed in Nazi garb. It was meant to spark discussion; instead, it sparked anger, directed at Rouse & Revolt and Haber-Lewis personally. She received death threats. The police came into the store to investigate after getting calls that she was dealing drugs and selling stolen goods. Ultimately, it got to be too much. She’d racked up a $2,000 legal bill and, as she put it, her “heart hurt.” Last month she decided to throw in the towel. Sort of.

The store isn’t going anywhere. In fact, Haber-Lewis decided to turn it into a franchise. Alicia Parsons and Stacy Short, who are still learning the ropes as Haber-Lewis drafts a full business outline, took over last month and plan to open a second Rouse & Revolt in Austin, Texas, in the near future.

“It’s got a great name, and it’s a great brand,” Haber-Lewis said, lamenting: “This was not what I wanted to do. But I wanted the store to succeed. I believe in sustainable fashion and activism and teaching the younger generation that by shopping at Rue 21 and Forever 21, they’re [just] contributing to this culture of waste and excess.”

For her part, Haber-Lewis plans to concentrate on getting her master’s in public administration at Chico State and her activism—she’s on the board of the local chapter of the ACLU, president of the Chico State chapter, and an active member of Legal Services of Northern California. And she’s not giving up the fight. Her lawyer recently penned a settlement agreement with Stott Advertising and she says if they don’t sign it—it calls for the billboard to be put back up, among other things—she’ll sue. She also recently filed a cease-and-desist order against the Chico Rants & Raves Facebook page over civil rights violations. That site recently featured a post with hundreds of comments disparaging Haber-Lewis and calling her a thief.

“They’re doing a disservice to the community,” she said.

Bach away I was told last week that I should swing by 7-Eleven downtown. Turns out the store recently installed outdoor speakers and is now blaring classical music as a way to deter homeless people from congregating out front. Seemed to be working the first time I stopped by. Then, a few days ago, while walking along First Street on my way to the CN&R office, I noticed that the group of people and their dogs and belongings—there are typically five or six of ’em camped out—had merely relocated around the corner. I had to leave the sidewalk to get past them. So, the jury is still out on this one.