Retail interrupted

Business perspectives on vagrancy in Chico

Despite having to clean filth from the entrance to her business on a regular basis and being frightened of certain transients in the area, downtown clothing-boutique owner Anika Burke Rodriguez-Kronmiller says she likes owning a shop in downtown Chico.

Despite having to clean filth from the entrance to her business on a regular basis and being frightened of certain transients in the area, downtown clothing-boutique owner Anika Burke Rodriguez-Kronmiller says she likes owning a shop in downtown Chico.

Photo By howard hardee

Retail interrupted

Business perspectives on vagrancy in Chico

Anika Burke Rodriguez-Kronmiller, owner of Anika Burke Eclectic Boutique in downtown Chico, used to get offended when someone smoked pot outside her store, but she said that in light of what she’s seen since opening a little more than a year ago, “That’s not a big deal anymore.”

During an interview at the boutique on Main Street, Rodriguez-Kronmiller described witnessing all manner of lewd and often illegal behavior, from public urination to drug overdoses, just outside her front window. And though a good number of the incidents in question involved college students, she’s had her share of trouble with transients as well. Rodriguez-Kronmiller rearranged her morning schedule—arriving no earlier than 9 a.m.—to avoid early morning confrontations with the homeless individuals who choose to bed down in her alcove.

“I used to just ask them, ‘Hey, can you get up?’ until I had one of them get really mad at me and I had to call the cops,” she said. “As a female by myself, I don’t feel comfortable [asking people to leave]. It’s mostly pretty big men sleeping in our alcove.”

On multiple occasions, she has called the police rather than attempt to enter her store alone. “There are some situations that aren’t safe, like the other day, there were guys cutting their lines [of drugs] in the alcove and distributing them into little bags to go sell.”

Rodriguez-Kronmiller credits the privately hired security guards currently patrolling downtown with reducing the number of people sleeping in alcoves downtown, though her husband, Scott, believes they might make customers uncomfortable. Until recently, removing urine, feces and vomit from her alcove was part of her morning routine.

But even considering her own unsavory experiences with the transient population, Rodriguez-Kronmiller repeatedly expressed her love for downtown Chico and distaste for the negativity evident in the attitudes of some of her fellow downtown business owners.

“For us, business is great,” she said. “A lot of people are using the situation as an excuse if they’re not having good business. When [downtown business owners] complain so vocally, it makes it seem way worse than it is. It scares people away from downtown.”

A woman napping at City Plaza next to the belongings of other homeless individuals.

Photo By tom gascoyne

Rodriguez-Kronmiller’s family plans to spend an upcoming weekend in San Francisco, which she acknowledged has its own homeless problem. She insists that won’t deter her from enjoying the city.

“I wouldn’t let homeless people or people doing drugs stop me from going somewhere I love,” she said.

Dan Brooks of Accent Landscapes & Powersweeps has been working late-night and early-morning shifts in Chico for more than 30 years. Of his commercial accounts, 10 involve sweeping enormous shopping-center parking lots every night. In order to properly complete his task, he often finds himself asking homeless people to move elsewhere.

“If I’ve got to [leaf-]blow the whole Mangrove Safeway parking lot, and they’re lying all over the place, it doesn’t work for me,” he said during a recent interview. “I tell them, ‘I have to take care of this place—can you do me a favor and move along?’ Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

As someone with a street-level view of Chico at night, Brooks said that the transient situation has gotten much worse in recent years. His employees never used to find hypodermic needles in the course of their work, and run-ins with “belligerent and crazy” individuals have become more frequent.

He described a handful of troublesome individuals who, by regularly trashing the properties he’s responsible for cleaning, increase cost to his business in the form of extra hours required to get a job done. One man in particular has been regularly knocking over garbage cans at a property, leaving the contents strewn about the parking lot.

“He’s our worst nightmare,” Brooks said. “With 23 garbage cans, you can imagine the amount of man-hours we put into cleaning up after this one guy.”

So, does Brooks think there’s a way to prevent the repeated mess?

“I hate to say it, but a security presence has to be there.”

Doug Roberts, owner of Duffy’s Tavern for the last 24 years, spoke in favor of the controversial civil-sidewalks ordinance (also known as the sit/lie law) during the Nov. 5 City Council meeting during which the law was under consideration. The ordinance, which passed by a 5-2 vote and will go into effect late next month, would make it illegal to sit or lie in pedestrian paths of travel adjacent to commercial properties between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

As his business at Fourth and Main streets is within eyeshot of both the City Council chambers and the City Plaza—popular gathering spots for the homeless—Roberts and his employees have dealt with the issue firsthand for the past six months.

“What my employees have to deal with, in terms of cleaning up biohazard—I don’t even want to tell you, it’s just nasty stuff. … I don’t think there’s one solution, but I believe the sit/lie ordinance is a way to help.”