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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”