Opinion on Current Anti-Homeless Sticker by Former Owner of The Black

by on June 22, 2010 · 26 comments

in Culture, Homelessness, Ocean Beach, Popular

Black storefrontby Steve A/ Special to the OB Rag / June 22, 2010

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.

"The Black" July 1971 OB Rag, page 19

The Black ad in the original OB Rag, Vol 1, No 16, pg 19 - Early July 1971. (Click on image for larger version.)

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.

Sincerely,

Steve A.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Greg Sullivan June 22, 2010 at 8:21 pm

“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.”

Steve A., like many if not most boomers today, you sound like Gordon Gekko. I know you are quite happy to sound that way–and that’s the problem.

Because I suspect somethings gone quite wrong with the boomer generation. I mean, just look around what’s happened to our country over the last 40 or so years.

Speaking of which, our country was not founded as a “capitalism”–it was founded as a democracy. But these days, and given your words, you wouldn’t know it.

Unlike capitalism, democracy is based on a fundamental principle of human worth. That’s one of the main reasons why so many folks have a problem with these stickers. It’s about priniciple–not political correctness. Something you apparently have lost grasp of.

What would Jack do? No, what would a citizen in a democratic republic do.

Reply

avatar Frank Gormlie June 23, 2010 at 7:45 am

Greg, Steve is basically agreeing with what you are saying: he said back in the ol days, they would not printed the sticker, as Jack the original owner, would not have allowed it.

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avatar Greg Sullivan June 23, 2010 at 8:39 am

Hey Frank,

I certainly appreciate Steve’s candor–he’s clearly thoughtful and intelligent–a combination you don’t usually see with such forthrightness. It’s refreshing and makes for the kind of unshy exchange of ideas and viewpoints that the Jesuits taught me in school.

That said, as to what extent Steve and I agree, I can tell you straightaway that I wasn’t standing on that corner last Saturday in OB because of some notion of political correctness or just because someone else made a questionable or unsavvy business decision.

Boyond just the boycott or having the stickers etc. removed–there really is more at stake here.

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avatar Steve A. June 23, 2010 at 10:44 am

Greg, I don’t disagree with your position. Your arguments are valid, when seen from the right perspective. However, it’s hard for many to change or alter their perspective. I am merely stating the obvious, as seen from the perspective of a business owner, a capitalist. Devils advocate, if you will.
Yes, things have gone quite wrong with the “boomer generation”. I don’t think anyone is more disgusted than I, when viewing our present social and economic situation.
Capitalism is a self-serving thing. It rarely holds the best interest of the general public in mind. We need only look around for the proof of that. Capitalism requires the Greg Sullivans and the OBRags of this world to keep it in check.
Can you imagine a world where capitalism was left unchecked ?
Why…, it would be like…, well…, ummm…, WallStreet.

What does any of this have to do with The Black selling offensive (to many) stickers?
The Black, (capitalist as it may be), has always represented (or projected that appearance) a segment of the counter-culture. Without being gross, we often carried some merchandise that was questionable in taste and offensive to some.
We felt were exercising our right to free speech.
Some would argue: how is the sticker in question any different or more offensive than say…, a poster of Uncle Sam “flipping you the bird” or earrings with a neo-Nazi emblem? Or, for that matter, any number of items found on display and for sale at The Black?

Is The Black just exercising their right to free speech?
We must, however, act responsibly when exercising that right.
Is The Black acting irresponsibly?
Some would argue: “The Black is just trying to stay on the cutting edge”.

Sincerely,
Steve

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avatar Greg Sullivan June 23, 2010 at 11:59 am

Hey Steve,

“However, it’s hard for many to change or alter their perspective.”

Hell, yeah.

But I think that’s what has to happen, someway, somehow.

Maybe this thing with the homeless is a start.

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avatar Ernie McCray June 22, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Capitalism should never trump setting an example of good behavior for our children to follow as they, even though it sounds cliche, are, indeed, the future. Their heads are often down thumbing and twittering and tweeting but when they look up it’s really vital that they see people solving problems decently as is easy to do in a democracy. If we teach them to hate they’ll do it better than we did.

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avatar CJ June 23, 2010 at 10:01 am

Right on Ernie. Kids, especially teens, need to understand how the “system” works in this country. Unfortunately, it reveals many ugly truths about government, business, and our society. As a parent and teacher, I also work very hard to direct my kids to avoid the pitfalls that I see many of the homeless youth that have given rise to the tension in our community. I realize some of the youth were born in pits and can’t get out, but many dig themselves in with substance abuse and other irresponsible decisions. As you know, our school system is on the front lines and has the potential to save kids. By the time kids get on the streets, it might be too late.

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avatar annagrace June 23, 2010 at 10:37 am

Homelessness is Good For Business at the Black. Hmmmm.

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avatar D.J. Bonin June 23, 2010 at 12:24 pm

How about having the homeless work at cleaning the streets/beaches and in turn they will receive tickets of some sort for free food, clothing and sundries that would be donated by locals and local businesses and have the local churches distribute them ??? just an idea.

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avatar psd June 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm

One guy took it upon himself to do just that on his own, and I always hooked him up when I had a spare couple bucks. Someone else posted on here that he actually made enough money to travel back east to be with family…

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avatar Sarah June 23, 2010 at 6:40 pm

His name is Donnie, and yes, we’ve heard he headed back to Cincinnatti to be with his son. I wonder what he did with his little trailer set up. It would have been cool if he’d deeded it to someone else…

Or maybe he’ll be back.

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avatar Kenneth Legg June 23, 2010 at 4:41 pm

probably wouldn’t get many takers on that one. If you got the liquor stores and the marijuana dispenseries in on the payment part maybe.Sweep the street for a joint?pick up cans for a 40?OB would be spotless!

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avatar Brian June 23, 2010 at 12:49 pm

The Black sells neo-Nazi earrings?

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avatar Steve A. June 23, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I’m not saying they do now. But, at one point, in the late 70’s, when “white power” was coming into vogue, Iron Cross and Swastika crap sold like hot-cakes. We didn’t like selling it, but, people were actually coming in asking for it. Distasteful as it may be, you give the customer what they want.

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avatar Brian June 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Hm… seems like Frank’s memory of The Black of the past may be a bit romanticized. Not sure how the store that sells Nazi swastika memorabilia is any more enlightened than the store selling “don’t feed our bums” stickers.

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avatar Steve A. June 23, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Memory is always romanticized. You like to remember the romantic side of things. The early half of the 70’s at The Black was a very enlightened and romantic time. The Hippie period was slowly waning, but, still there. By the mid 70’s the Hippie thing was gone and it was no longer romantic. By the late 70’s it was no longer enlightened, just commercial.

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avatar Frank Gormlie June 24, 2010 at 6:11 am

Brian, memory can do that if you’re not careful. Sure, one week the Black will have a poster of Che Guevara up in the front window, and the next week some raunchy poster or display. There have a couple of posts here that describe the Black as “a capitalist enterprise” and that’s all. They have been making money off the counter-culture for decades. Unfortunately, the Black is still the ONLY book store on Newport (or store that at least sells “general” book merchandise).

It is easy to romanticize OB. That romanticization sure rubbed off quickly for me yesterday in front to the Black.

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avatar Greg Sullivan June 24, 2010 at 9:17 am

“That romanticization sure rubbed off quickly for me yesterday in front to the Black.”

Hey Frank,

How did it go yesterday?–are you going to write something up?

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avatar Steve A. June 24, 2010 at 9:54 am

Wow, quite a ruckus at The Black yesterday afternoon, it would appear!
This morning (Thursday) I googled the San Diego news outlets to see if I could catch some videos of the protest/counter protest in front of The Black.
All I can say is “Wow”!

We (The Black) were a curiosity back in the 70’s, but, never controversial like this.
We were a curiosity in a good way. The curiosity was something we were proud of. Our curiosity was more about the cool stuff we had to offer and our cool ‘do unto others’ attitude.

There was a time when the kids up and down Newport Ave. and even some of the merchants wanted to know us, be friends with us. The Black projected an image. That image was partly about the merchandise we sold and partly about ourselves. An image about who we were. An image we took great pride in. The Black was an icon.

We never would have considered molding or shaping public thought one way or another.
Our concern was how long will an ever-changing, ever-evolving, O.B. community support us?
We never tried to impose ourselves on anyone.
Our egos may have been a bit over inflated, but, we remained gracious to the community for having us.
We didn’t want controversy, let alone instigate it.

As I suspected and stated previously, all this bad publicity would only benefit The Black, (“This is free advertising you just can’t buy”). One TV Reporter stated that sales at The Black, this week, rivaled those during Christmas.

On the subject of capitalism, it’s reported that “Bum” stickers, hats and T’s are sold-out and on back-order.

Steve A.

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avatar Greg Sullivan June 24, 2010 at 10:34 am

Jeez Steve, that’s something.

You know, I wonder if The Black and their customers aren’t becoming too much the focus point in all this. As if this is all about one renegade business, a bad apple, whose PR stunt is in exceptionally bad tast.

What role is the Ocean Beach Mainstreet Assn. playing in all this?

I recall Frank initally mentioning in the UT article that this was a “continuation of “an underground campaign” against the homeless that began months ago.”

Is Frank now saying its just one business behind this?

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avatar Greg Sullivan June 24, 2010 at 11:33 am

By the way, the reason I mention this is because its starting to look like that this is about stickers–a cheezy PR stunt–instead of the latest example of scapegoating in an ongoing campaign against the most vulnerable in society.

Patty K. Mooney makes a good point (in: It’s Bash The Homeless Week In San Diego) when she writes:

“Instead of getting all irate about stickers, seals and ganging up on each other, why aren’t we voicing our complaints about the systematic extortion of our tax dollars by our oil-fueled government?”

Shouldn’t the focus be on how those in positions of power are using that power and their influence to scapegoat and distract people from the real crimes in City Hall, Washington D.C., Wall Street etc.?

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avatar Frank Gormlie June 24, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Greg, here I is…. Our initial survey when the stickers first became known, there was one business that has two storefronts – South Coast Surf Shop – both – had them. But we have not a more recent survey. Care to assist us on that, Greg? seriously. We missed you yesterday but totally understand that you already did your part last weekend. Email us with contact info for you obragblog@gmail.com

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avatar Frank Gormlie June 24, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Steve, I’m really appreciating your comments. They have been truly a breath of fresh air.

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avatar Sarah June 23, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I like that.

“Distasteful as it may be, you give the customer what they want.”

Perfect.

And THIS, my friends and neighbors, is EXACTLY why our community, as well as our nation, is as screwed up as it is. Oil, cheap crap from China… all of it.

As a very wise man once said on this blog:

“Watch what you buy. Watch what you wear and how you wear it. Watch how you express yourself, how you roll.” – Ernie McCray

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avatar Chris Moore June 23, 2010 at 8:52 pm

I agree the sticker is tasteless and awful, and I admire Steve’s courage to come & tell the other side of the story.

And I am very proud of OB Rag for being a true community forum where everyone gets to say their piece.

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avatar OB Cindi June 24, 2010 at 9:17 am

My favorite comment of those who LIKE the sticker yesterday was, “I have lived in OB all my life, how long have you lived here? So you and your kind can get out!” Me and my kind? What are my kind? People who call the United States “home?” People who love the beach? Those who admire counter-culture lifestyles? Locals who want more portapotty’s? Winston lov’n, hippie danc’n freaks (yes please!)? Well here is my response to those who want to throw out the “I have been in OB for X number of years speech.” I grew up not only in another city, but another country. I have traveled the world, often choosing to live with locals rather then stay in a hotel. If you have only lived in one town all your life, I encourage you to go live in another town for a few months (or if you can’t due to work or school constraints, try one month) that is completely opposite of the town you have lived in all your life. Because immersing oneself in another culture for an extended period of time, often allows us the opportunity to broaden our spiritual and analytical horizons, and embrace difference (whether or not we agree with the opposing opinion).

Whether we have lived here 2 days or 40+ years, whether we pay taxes or anti-uncle sam, whether we own or rent, whether we have four walls or don’t have four walls, if we call OB home, we are all OBceans and are no better or worse for it.

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