During the seventies, (from 1970 to 1980), I was one of the co-owners of The Black.
As of late, via the evening news (I no longer reside in the area), I have been made aware that there has been considerable discussion regarding the homeless or bums in O.B. and that The Black is smack in the middle of a controversy and possibly even on the wrong side of the fence in the matter.
During my years at The Black, one nagging issue we had to contend with was the O.B. scene. Generally, O.B. was pretty quiet and come closing-time, except for a few bars and a couple of poker parlors, the town went to sleep. It was never a rowdy or dangerous place, even at night. However, like clock work, as soon as the weather warmed in early spring, the riff-raff would start trickling into town.
There were three distinct types, as I recall: 1) there were the loonies, those who were in need of psychiatric help, 2) the low-lifes, who were just bumming around and 3) the dope peddlers.
For the most-part, neither of these three groups were a specific threat to us, but, in the general overall picture, they were a blight on the community. The loonies and the bums were not our customers. With rare exception, the mentally ill and the bums usually had no need for posters of Bob Marley or imported tapestries. Occasionally we’d have to run a dope peddler out for trying to make a sale to someone inside the store.
Nearly all the businesses in O.B. and specifically on Newport Ave. relied on tourist dollars and customers coming into O.B. from other outside communities to spend money. If tourists or potential customers from neighboring areas felt threatened or unsafe by the presence of derelicts or mentally unstable persons or drug peddlers, it could only hurt business and the reputation of the community. This is basic to every business owner.
At that time, we didn’t have an issue with pan-handlers. There were pan-handlers in O.B., but, they weren’t hurting anybody and we just didn’t have a problem with them. Maybe, the pan-handlers of today are a completely different breed. It’s been mentioned: aggressive, knife wielding, verbally abusive. Well, that’s not something I personally want to be subjected to. I’m aware that professional pan-handlers, people that take in a considerable sum, I mean a hundred plus dollars a day by hitting people up for money, do exist. That’s not the same thing as asking someone for spare change or a quarter so they can buy a sandwich to eat. There is a difference.
During my tenure at The Black, I don’t think we would have printed up and sold a “Don’t Feed the Bums” type of sticker. Joke or otherwise. I don’t think Jack Odegard, (our senior partner and founder of The Black), would have approved of such a controversial undertaking. I think he would have nix’d that idea. Jack was a very anti-establishment, “live-and-let-live” kind of guy and we generally always deferred to his wisdom.
However, contrary to it’s prima-facia (at first glance) appearance, that of being a “very cool hippie headshop” right out of the sixties and seventies, The Black is a Capitalist Enterprise. One where the loudest voice heard over the roar of the crowd is always the all-mighty buck. I am not surprised nor am I upset, at all, over the printing and selling of the sticker, hats and shirts. It’s a very Capitalist thing to do. In fact, from a purely business point of view, I would say it was a very ingenious thing to do. It is the perfect model for Capitalist Enterprise. Controversial as it may be, they (The Black) took Something from absolutely Nothing and made something people “want to buy”. That is the height of Capitalism. Capitalism is what makes this economy run. And, we really need it to start running again. Unfortunately, the subject matter they chose has proven to be a political-correctness hot-potato. And, I really think that is the main point here. The stickers are not “Politically Correct”.
It’s not about “run the panhandlers out of town”, or “let’s starve the homeless” as the media would make it out to be. It’s more about staying within the politically-correct boundaries. And, The Black didn’t do that, in the opinion of some. How much political-correctness must we allow to affect ours lives?
On the flip-side, Kurt, (the now owner of The Black for nearly 30 years, (wow!…has it really been that long?)), could do the right thing and pony-up some of the profits from the sales of those stickers, hats and shirts and publicly make a donation to the organizations that help the homeless and those truly in need of help.
In the long-run, I think the controversy and national news coverage can only benefit The Black, (albeit in a twisted way). This is free advertising you just can’t buy. On a national scale!
Faced with the controversy and threats of boycotts, I can only wonder, “what would Jack do?”
This has only been my humble opinion.