Shaken by vandalism, Portland business owners pick up the pieces

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PORTLAND, ME - OCTOBER 18: Zack Bodkin , bar manager at Jefe Juan's, stands outside the boarded-up establishment after extensive vandalism was discovered to the building on Monday morning. (Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer)

The owners of several Portland stores and restaurants are cleaning up after a spate of weekend vandalism and a suspected burglary left businesses with shattered windows and other damage.

At least two businesses on Wharf Street were damaged, with items reported missing from one of them. In separate incidents on Congress Street, a Portland man was charged with aggravated criminal mischief for allegedly breaking windows at the Reny’s department store and the Portland Flea-for-All, an upscale flea market.

The damage to businesses on Congress and Wharf streets happened about a month after several businesses in Monument Square had their windows shattered by a man police said was trying to break in. Police have not indicated there is a connection between those incidents and the recent ones.

Police say officers were responding to a reported theft at Reny’s on Congress Street on Friday afternoon when a man threw an object through a store window. The following afternoon, officers were called to Flea-for-All after the same suspect allegedly broke several windows, David Singer, spokesman for the police department, said in an emailed statement.

The front windows and doors to Jefe Juan’s on Wharf Street were destroyed. Photo courtesy Zack Bodkin

After an investigation, Michael Hale, 50, of Portland was identified as the suspect and issued a summons for two counts of aggravated criminal mischief, police said. Singer didn’t respond to an email Monday night asking where and when Hale was apprehended.

In a separate incident on Saturday morning, officers were called to investigate a report of a burglary at 49 Wharf St. Officers found broken windows, extensive damage and received reports of items that were missing from Jefe Juan’s, Singer said. A neighboring business, Rathskeller on Wharf, had a broken window.

Singer said investigators do not believe the Wharf Street incidents are related to what happened on Congress Street.

Erin Kiley and her husband, who own the Portland Flea-for-All on Congress Street, were taking a weekend off from the store for the first time in a long time. Early Saturday afternoon, the phone “started ringing off the hook” with calls about the windows of the store being smashed by a man who seemed agitated and was swearing while riding a bicycle and wielding a baseball bat, Kiley said.

“We didn’t understand the extent of the damage until we got back to town,” she said.

Windows at Flea-for-All on Congress Street in Portland were boarded up after a string of vandalism early Sunday morning damaged a number of businesses. Gregory A. Rec/Staff Photographe

After rushing to Portland, Kiley found three of the store’s six large front windows broken, with big shards of glass still standing in the window frames and smaller pieces scattered across displays. She said she was glad no one was in the store when it happened because that would have caused a whole different level of stress.

HECKLED WHILE CLEANING UP

The man who allegedly broke the windows was taken into custody by police, Kiley said, but was back in the area within an hour. She said he rode by and heckled her as she cleaned up the broken windows.

Kiley said the man, whom police identified as Hale, has been “harassing people and making threats” in Congress Square Park for weeks. While Kiley said she doesn’t necessarily want to see people locked up, she finds it frustrating that someone who may be experiencing a mental health crisis isn’t receiving help.

“I wish there were better systems in place to protect him and also the people that are clearly being impacted by the damage,” she said.

Kiley would like to see the city address what has happened to her business and others.

“As far as I can tell, there’s very little the city or mental health crisis prevention teams can do about it,” she said. “I think that’s a real problem the city has to address.”

She been told that because of supply chain issues it could be well over a month before the windows at her store are repaired. She anticipates insurance will cover about a third of the cost to replace them.

On Wharf Street, the Saturday morning incidents left Jefe Juan’s with its windows smashed and its interior bar damaged. Next door, a business that is set to open this week also was damaged when someone smashed its window.

Tom Minervino, co-owner of Rathskeller on Wharf, said he was there Friday for a friends-and-family night before his new tavern opens later this week.

“On Saturday morning, we came to find police on the street and our window smashed in,” he said, noting that Jefe Juan’s plate glass window also had been smashed “and there was lots of damage inside.”

“It’s not a great situation. It seems like this stuff happens around Portland from time to time,” Minervino said. “It’s unfortunate that it had to happen at all, but it could have been a lot worse. We feel terrible for our neighbors next door.”

Video footage from security cameras across the street captured someone damaging the businesses between 3 and 4 a.m., he said. He found a cobblestone inside the kitchen along with many shards of glass.

Zack Bodkin manages the bar at Jefe Juan’s, a traditional Mexican restaurant with a tequila-based cocktail menu, where he and his staff spent the weekend cleaning up and repairing what they could.

SEVERE DAMAGE

“The damage was pretty severe. There were a lot of missing items and the bar was destroyed,” Bodkin said.

He said the vandal or vandals smashed tequila bottles, damaged the bar’s tap system and shattered the restaurant’s front sliding glass windows, which overlook an outdoor dining area on Wharf Street.

“I don’t know if we will be back to normal tonight or even tomorrow, but we will be soon,” Bodkin said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “We are going to do the best we can.”

A message left at Reny’s headquarters was not returned Monday.

Last month, Portland police arrested a man after he allegedly broke into several businesses on Monument Square. Police say 39-year-old Jimmy Burnett broke windows and other items to get into David’s Restaurant and The Lady in the Moon, a boutique, on Sept. 19. Officers responded to reports of vandalism and found that several businesses had damaged storefronts, including broken windows. The Lady in the Moon had a large hole smashed in a window, and other businesses had their exterior tables and chairs overturned and damaged.

Burnett was arrested and charged with burglary, theft and criminal mischief. He was taken to Cumberland County Jail, where bail was set at  $1,500 cash. He was still in custody Monday, according to jail records.

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