Boston Armenian-Owned Properties Damaged During May 31 Violence

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BOSTON – Peaceful Boston protests by thousands of people sparked by the death of George Floyd and other black Americans on Sunday, May 31 ended up in violence and the looting that night of dozens of businesses in the Back Bay and Downtown Crossing areas, as well as vandalism and damage in three parks. While Boston Mayor Marty Walsh praised those who peacefully protested, he said, “what happened in downtown Boston was an attack on Boston and its values,” harming the worthy cause of the protesters. Among the Armenian business owners affected was the Talanian family, which through C. Talanian Realty owns and manages one of the largest private portfolios of property in the Back Bay, according to its website.

In 1997, an honorary blue street sign was installed at the intersection of Newbury and Exeter streets in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston to honor the late Charles Talanian (father of Charles M. Talanian) for his real estate vision

Charles M. Talanian is the president of the firm. He said, “Most people think I deal with all the hoity-toity high end stuff. Yeah, I have Dolce Gabbana, UGG, Longchamp, La Perla, H&M, but that is less than 10 percent. Most of what I have are mom-and-pop shops.” He said, “Oftentimes a person comes with a dream and one month’s rent and that’s about it. They try. They want to get into business. I admire these people. My father never went to high school and look what he made out of himself. He had dreams and vision—very big vision.”

Charles M. Talanian

He said that his firm has a lot of retail, office and residential clients in the Back Bay area and is very personal and hands-on with its clients. He emphasized, “We are not a big company from out-of-state—send your rent check to an out-of-state post office box.” Some tenants have been with the firm for over thirty years.

The novel coronavirus crisis put a lot of pressure on this relationship. Talanian said, “These past three months, I spent a tremendous amount of time on the phone, talking to them, trying to make deals, to get through this pandemic situation.” Stores were closed and his firm only got a 30-day relief on taxes while getting paid either partial or no rent for 90 days. Federal banking rules allow banks and insurance companies that finance properties to take action if a building does not perform to a certain formula and put property up for auction, he pointed out.

The UGG store after the looting. Shoes and boxes from this store were found up and down Newbury Street that night.

He tried to nurse the situation along until the planned soft opening on June 1 of offices at 25 percent capacity in Boston. He was in Florida on the night of May 31, he said, when he received an email from Meg Mainzer-Cohen, the executive director of the Back Bay Association, which has over 400 business members working for their mutual interests in the neighborhood, especially larger businesses like the Prudential Center, Copley Place and the hotels. The email was directed to Talanian and three of the other largest property owners in the affluent Newbury Street area. Basically, it stated that according to Captain Steven Sweeney, commander of police district D-4, there was no intelligence that Newbury Street would be targeted for looting or aggression. However, there would be a tactical van patrolling the Newbury-Boylston route just in case.

Broken glass on a Talanian-owned building

Clearly something was off with that intelligence. Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston on June 4 admitted that the city did not call up all available and able officers that night (https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/06/07/nation/there-was-no-full-call-up-boston-police-sundays-demonstration/). On the other hand, according to the same article just cited, the police presence was seen by many as significant. According to reports of some residents, there was no police presence for one hour, while the plundering was fairly organized. Windows were broken with “some sort of tool,” then a group would enter a store to rob it, and cars would come which would take away the stolen goods. A Boston Sun editorial blamed professional criminals who took “advantage of the diversion of the police created by the peaceful and legitimate protesters.”

A view of Newbury Street after the looting with stores boarded, including Talanian Realty property

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Evidently, what happened that evening and whether the mayor acted properly will still continue to be analyzed and interpreted as more information becomes available, but Talanian is in the critical camp, suspecting political bias and motivations possibly connected to the upcoming November election.

Many stores with high-end goods were targeted, like UGG and Canada Goose (see a preliminary list here). Talanian said his friends who watched the night unfolding through the security cameras in their stores told him odd stories of police not intervening next to looters and cars and Ubers backed up on Newbury Street, collecting plundered goods.

Another boarded-up storefront on Newbury Street

Armed troops including National Guard and extra police secured the area in the days after the plundering, with Humvees traveling the streets. There have been no major issues since May 31 while peaceful protests continued to take place.

Armed National Guard military police patrol Newbury Street and surrounding areas in the days after the looting

Talanian said that it was too early to calculate the damages his properties suffered. If a property was rented and occupied, the tenant would be responsible for his glass fronts, but he would be responsible for vacant stores, such as one of his properties with a building permit in the window which was going to be built out for a Dunkin’ Donuts. Though empty the windows were smashed.

Talanian said, “I feel sad for the smaller businesses that I have, the one- and two-man shops, the nail salon, the facial salon and so forth.” They all told him they just wanted to go back in business and pay rent. Until it is all over and the damage can be assessed, he asked them to pay half. He said they were very appreciative.

A lot of the graffiti, Talanian said, his firm takes care of, but the city also was sending in people to power wash it off. Bridges, statues, brick patios and sidewalks were covered along with store areas.

A boarded-up Ani and Alex store on Newbury Street after the looting

Other Armenian-connected businesses damaged that night include Alex and Ani, a firm founded by Carolyn Rafaelian, and the high-end designer clothing store Alan Bilzerian. In the latter’s case, its large plate glass window was smashed and the window emptied of its mannequins and clothing. Fortunately, the store itself was not entered and it was able to safely open again on June 8 by appointment.

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