Locke Street strong Community gathers together to show love and support

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Hamilton was overcome with shock and disbelief as the stories of shattered windows and egged storefronts unfolded after the vandalism incident in the Locke Street neighbourhood on the evening of March 3.

Hamilton police responded to a “mischief in progress” call when thirty masked individuals gathered in Durand Park on Park Street South. The group, clad in all black, marched with a painted banner that read “We Are The Ungovernable”.

As police called for backup, the group began making their way towards Locke Street South near Aberdeen Avenue. It is unclear whether the group originally intended to cause damage to the small businesses in the community or if the acts of vandalism were not planned.

The first business to be egged was Earth to Table: Bread Bar, a large stone was smashed into a Pippa & Prue window, while two windows were smashed at the Beverly on Locke. The momentum of damage increased as the group marched west along the street, pelleting stones and setting off fireworks.

Donut Monster appeared to sustain the most damage. Eight windows and the front door were shattered before the group caused damage to Bitten on Locke, Condo Culture, Neo, Locke Street Meats and Cima Enoteca. My Dog’s Café Bar and Mattson Co. were also egged.

Police have not made any arrests in connection to the incident and are currently investigating evidence that they have received linking the incident to the anarchist book fair that took place at Westdale Secondary School the same weekend.

The Tower, an anarchist social centre in Hamilton, which organized the book fair, released a statement claiming that they did not organize the rally, but are in support of the incident.

“[Small businesses] aren’t the ones redeveloping whole blocks or carrying out mass evictions. What they have done, though, is to put themselves on the side of the speculators and landlords, positioning themselves to profit off forces that harm most of their neighbours,” read the statement.

The Tower made an additional post on Facebook following a break-in to their premises. Their same statement alleges that alt-right groups have sent threats to the community library in the days before the break-in.

Following the aftermath of the attack, Locke Street business owners and community members took to social media with emotionally charged messages of love and support. Countless comments were left by people sending their well wishes and offering to help clean up stores.

By the afternoon of the next day, it became nearly impossible to walk, let alone drive through Locke Street, as hundreds of people, children and pets took to the streets for a day of local shopping and supporting small businesses.

In an effort to move past the incident, Hamiltonians came out to embrace Locke Street, and in turn, businesses showed their gratification for their community while also encouraging positive conversation.

“Please stop in if you would like to say ‘Hi’, you will be welcome to start a conversation with your neighbours on keeping peace and promoting good connections here in #HamOnt,” read a post published on Donut Monster’s social media.

“To those who took part in the destruction on the street last night: the damage you caused has impacted the lives and wellbeing of fellow Hamiltonians that work and reside in your city. While your actions were confusing and hurtful and your intentions unclear, you are also welcome at the shop today — minus the masks and rocks — to add your voice to a peaceful discussion on reconciliation and moving past violence.”

Donut Monster’s call to conversation was heard as people stopped by for coffee and took the time to chat with owner Reuben Vanderkwaak and his wife. The boarded-up doughnut shop quickly became a canvas for visitors’ positive affirmations and doodles of doughnuts, hearts and sunshine.

Conversation transcended on social media, amalgamating around the question on everyone’s mind: why did this happen?

Some drew a connection between last summer’s vandalism on businesses on Barton Street and in Westdale, which have been linked to a campaign against gentrification in the city by anarchist groups.

Others claim Locke Street, a relatively wealthy neighbourhood, has been undergoing changes for years, making its small businesses a target of anti-gentrification groups.

However, in an anonymous article written by an attendee of the rally on Anarchistnews.org, the author explains that small businesses are not exempt from contributing to the city’s gentrification.

“The problem isn’t the size of the business, it’s that the relationship is exploitative. When someone decides to be a capitalist, making money through their investments rather than through their labour, their position relative to changes in the city becomes fundamentally different,” read the article.

Pippa & Prue owner, Prudy Allison, claims that urbanization may have played a motivating factor for the rally, but they do not justify the attacks on businesses.

“This isn’t a community that’s been urbanized so that all the old buildings are gone. [My] store looks exactly the same way it did, we’re going back 60 to 70 years, the front of this store is almost the same,” explained Allison.

“All the buildings are trying to preserved, as much as they can, and they’re all small businesses here… we’re holding on to our roots here, we’re just not letting it decay.”

If the purpose of the rally was to deter people away from Locke Street, then the efforts weren’t fruitful. According to Allison and other business owners in the area, new faces have been coming out to shop at their stores and the community received extensive media exposure.

“It was surreal. What’s going on. The outpouring of support was immediate. This is Locke Street, the community loves it, a bunch of punks aren’t going to change that. That’s all they were because if they had a statement, they weren’t smart enough to put it out there very well,” said Allison.

The community is planning on holding a #LoveLocke Day on Saturday, March 10. Hamiltonians are encouraged to visit and shop at local small businesses.

Donut Monster also released a new “Make Lemonade” flavour for this week, complete with glass-like shards of lemon candy made by Sweet Simple Co., a nod towards the weekend’s events. All proceeds from the “Make Lemonade” donut will be donated to Indwell, a non-profit organization that creates affordable housing communities in Hamilton.

Locke Street is a strong community built on support and collaboration between businesses and community members. Last weekend’s events were a testament of that.

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Author: Razan Samara

Arts and Culture Reporter Razan Samara is a second year Life Science student writer and community advocate. When she isn't taking a nap on a go bus, she spends her evenings watching crappy sci-fi series and mourning their subsequent cancelation.