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Santa Monica Music: Their Story Could be Your Story

Menzie Pittman • July 2020Small Business Matters • June 30, 2020

What could be worse for any business to experience than the pandemic? Lately, when you visit the websites of most music stores, you will see a pinned notice that pertains to the recent dilemma of COVID -19, and the effects it has had on that business. We have all had that in common, but as hard as it is to fathom, Santa Monica Music (SMM) has encountered a much more difficult fate. The message on their site reads as follows:

On May 30, this fifty-year-old family run business that has been serving the Santa Monica-Malibu school district was looted. Everything in the repair shop was stolen, and all the operational equipment, computers, printers, transaction equipment was either stolen or destroyed. Please consider contributing to our GoFundMe.

After you have suffered the financial devastation of an ordeal like COVID, your lesson programs have been devastated by that truth, and your sales have been cut off at the knees, you never really expect a second major event to impact your business – especially after only being reopened a few days. However, for Santa Monica Music, a very bad second storm was on the horizon.

As minority business owners, Lana Fernandez Negrete, her husband, and her father Chico Fernandez certainly had empathy for the killing of George Floyd. As we all did, they watched the story unfold on national news, and were aware riots could erupt in their area. Realizing civil tensions were mounting and trouble was brewing, on the day when the violence and looting did, in fact, erupt, Lana and her husband moved as many instruments as possible to locked rooms upstairs. Then they braced for the worst. Even though they had taken steps to protect their business, no one could have prepared for what occurred. Carloads of organized looters were dropped off with guns and they began to attack and pillage their store as a destination target. Clearly, a definite plan had been scripted and put in place by the looters.

Lana recounts that after smashing the windows, the looters began helping each other get inside; they held up the window curtains for each other to enter. Then they began to take violins that had been set aside as donations for the kids in the store’s nonprofit program. The looters cavalierly threw instruments out the window and onto the sidewalk. They were very frenetic and fast and worked in teams. They stole just to steal and destroyed without conscience. None of the looting seemed to have any relation to George Floyd’s death. There was no regard for anything, not property or people.

Earlier that day, prior to the arrival of the cars teeming with thieves, Lana and her husband and a few more friends stood in front of the music store dissuading would-be looters with a bat, but then things changed dramatically. The carloads of looters descended on the store in one massive troupe. It was at that point that Lana and her husband knew they no longer could stop them. Within minutes the couple faced gunpoint. The two fled for safety amid the sickening sound of shattering glass from their storefront window. In Lana’s words, “It was so violating; it shook me to my core.”

The couple hid in bushes across the street and attempted to film the violation of their life’s work. The two terrified business owners watched as vehicles nonchalantly drove by the invasion.

Yet cars continued to pull up in front of the store and group after group discharged to pilfer. What seemed to be a lookout texted additional looters, and the entourage of bandits continued. For Lana and her husband, it was like a scene out of an apocalyptic movie. It was evident that these bandits were exiting from the freeway and were not part of any protesters. These individuals had one focus: to destroy any and everything they could.

To add to the devastation of the assault and aggression on their business, the owners of Santa Monica Music still had the responsibility of attempting to put their world back together.

They called their insurance company to ask a few questions. If you are not sitting down, you need to sit down for the initial response. They were told by their insurance company since this type of event is an “Act of God,” they are not liable! Rest assured, with time and, I would venture to say, multiple complaints, they have changed their posture. But after reading about what happened to SMM you begin realizing that this, too, could happen to any one of us.

A closing message: No one saw the COVID crises coming, and it has crippled every business to extraordinary levels. Many music stores may not recover, but what Lana and her father Chico and all the people at Santa Monica Music have just undergone reminds me of the four days of riots in 1968 that Chuck Levin endured. It was a period of civic uprising following the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. Unfortunately, the justified protests were overshadowed by the criminal element who chose to destroy and loot. Washington Music Center was a victim of that disobedience.

On the heels of the Pandemic struggles, the recent protests initiated with the public killing of a citizen by a police officer. Again, as in 1968, those who are choosing to exercise their right to protest are once again eclipsed by those who have nothing to do with the protests but who have chosen to commit transgressions against innocent businesses. It took decades for Chuck Levin, but like a Phoenix from the ashes, Washington Music Center reshaped 30 minutes from the original location and continues today as a family-owned business, and a leader in the music industry. The difference between 1968 and this time is that SMM was already hit with the challenge of a lifetime: COVID-19. It is my hope that the music industry will rally, however we can, to lend a hand. Maybe that’s a good idea in general.

Menzie Pittman is the owner and director of education at Contemporary Music Center in Virginia (CMC). Following a performance and teaching career spanning more than 32 years, he founded CMC in 1989 and continues to perform, teach, and oversee daily operations. He has 50 years of musical experience as a drummer and drum instructor. Menzie is a frequent speaker at NAMM’s Idea Center, and a freelance writer for MMR’s “Small Business Matters.”

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