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Vandals strike local business

Volunteer Bruce Ziebart cleans graffiti from the Winslow Hardware facade.  - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Volunteer Bruce Ziebart cleans graffiti from the Winslow Hardware facade.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

Graffiti made an unwelcome appearance downtown Wednesday when Winslow Hardware and Mercantile was defaced.

The front and side of the hardware store – an island institution for fifty years – was hit late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning with spray paint on the west and south sides of the building. Several planter boxes had been pushed from the overhanging facade on the building’s front.

Police say that the degree of destruction marks this crime as particularly malicious.

“You’re average graffiti artist – their goal is art,” Bainbridge police detective Scott Anderson said. “The stuff at Winslow Hardware – their goal was vandalism.”

Ken Nelson and Don Shaver, Winslow Hardware and Mercantile employees, found the damage when they came to work Wednesday morning.

By the time Shaver and Nelson opened the store, the planters had been removed from the street and placed near the store entrance by an early-arriving Blackbird Bakery employee.

“I don’t know what prompted me to come out front.” Shaver said. “I saw the boxes by the door and thought, ‘Was it that windy last night?’”

The employees notified business owners Ken Schuricht and Mary Hall. Schuricht and Hall had planned to move on Wednesday, so they coped with the destruction at their business while transporting personal effects to their new home.

“It’s just very, very upsetting,” Hall said. “In terms of lost manpwer and time, it’s destructive.”

The hardware store has been hit before.

“The last time this happened was in late summer,” Hall said, “and before that, three or four years ago. When city hall got painted, they got us, too.”

The face of the Winslow Hardware building had been repainted in November., with regular customers weighing in with opinions about how the sign should look.

“Everyone had something to say about it,” Shaver said. “This store is a center where people congregate.

“The vandalism is a sad commentary on what’s happening to this community.”

Patrol officers were dispatched to the scene to photograph the graffiti in order to compile a record of the characteristic “signatures.”

The officers say that the Winslow hardware graffiti doesn’t resemble any others they have seen on the island. Anderson noted that the number of signatures suggests that there were four to six perpetrators.

“I would assume these people were under the age of 25,” he said.

Those kids are probably bragging, so there’s a lot of people on the island who know about this,” Anderson said. “Regardless of the age of the person, it was juvenile, immature and irresponsible.”

Police will ask suspects being questioned about other crimes for information about the vandalism, Anderson says.

A volunteer graffiti-remover who has has tracked island graffiti vandalism for five years notes that graffiti has made a strong showing this fall and winter.

“I removed 100 per month from October through December,” the volunteer, who prefers to remain anonymous, said. “In January I removed 85. This year is off to a normal start.”

Graffiti peaks in September and June – the beginning and end of the school year – and dies off in summer, he says.

He believes that proximity to the ferry is one reason most graffiti is concentrated in downtown Winslow.

Seattle taggers come to the island, Anderson notes, while Bainbridge-based crews travel in the other direction. Seattle police have coordinated with the Bainbridge department to help catch island graffiti artists.

When they are caught, the penalty varies with the severity of damage and the number of incidents.

“If we can tie them to six or seven incidents, there are legal ways to aggregate those and try them together,” Anderson said.

That strategy turns a misdemeanor into a felony, Anderson says.

Winslow Hardware opened as usual Wednesday and customers who came and went through the morning commented on the damage.

Some brought edible comfort and consolation. Blackbird Bakery sent over a cake and a customer brought homemade soup and muffins.

An islander described by Hall only as “a good Samaritan” joined workers from the paint store Schuricht, Hall and Joan Marsden opened on Hildebrand in December to help clean the downtown building.

By early Wednesday afternoon the graffiti had been removed, although Hall says that repainting will wait for warmer weather.

Schuricht said, “We’re going to see what we can do to make the store a less attractive target.”

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