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'Windows Are Not Lives': Vandalized South End Black-Owned Business Keeps Focus On Black Lives

TJ and Hadley Douglas, co-owners of the Urban Grape in the South End. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
TJ and Hadley Douglas, co-owners of the Urban Grape in the South End. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

From home on Sunday night, TJ and Hadley Douglas watched a peaceful protest deteriorate. As protestors enraged over the death of George Floyd dissipated, police clashed with the people left behind. The Douglases tracked the unrest spreading beyond downtown Boston and inching closer to their store.

“I said to TJ, this is like watching our life flashed before our eyes in slow motion," said Hadley Douglas. "We were like, OK, they're six blocks, OK? They're five blocks, OK? They're four blocks. Three blocks.”

The co-owners of The Urban Grape, a black-owned wine and spirits shop in the South End, quickly came to realize they had two choices: assess the expected damages that night or go to sleep. They each realized that was no choice at all.

“We're sitting there on the couch and we're just saying, do we go in? What do we do? You know, is it worth going in? Do we risk our lives? Do we take some sort of stand?" Hadley Douglas said. "And then TJ said to me — and he was so right — 'It's just stuff. It's just stuff. It doesn't matter.'"

TJ Douglas’s reasoning was rooted in logic as well as something else. A wisdom gained after living 41 years in a black body in America. A knowledge of what it would look like to law enforcement to see someone like him, out after midnight, simply checking on his business.

“Me as a black man, I'm not driving into the city and going through a window into a liquor store," TJ Douglas said.

The couple met on Marathon Monday in 2001. She knew immediately. He took a little more time, she said laughing. The interracial couple has been through a lot of life together. This is the 10th anniversary of their business. They have two young boys with whom they've already had the "talk," the one often had with young black and brown kids about how this world might react to the color of their skin.

“We came to the understanding that nothing that truly matters to us is inside those four walls. We love this store. Like another child. But it's a brick and mortar and it's bottles of wine," Hadley Douglas said. "Our kids are home. Our kids are safe. Our staff is safe. There was nothing we could do.”

The first photo of their shattered storefront arrived by text at 6 a.m. Hadley Douglas woke with a start and got their two sons, ages 11 and 13, ready for homeschool. TJ Douglas went to survey the destruction. In this space full of glass bottles, intruders barely stole or damaged inventory. Viewing the store's security camera footage, TJ Douglas watched people walk in around 2:20 a.m., 2:30 a.m. and then at 3 o'clock in the morning.

“These were kids walking down the street in front of blue lights...had like a big sledgehammer...and boom went right for the registers, smashed up our custom countertops but looked for money, went under, looked for a safe, went out back, didn't steal any wine," said TJ Douglas. "Half an hour later, some other kids walk by. They're like, 'huh,' walk in, look around, grab a couple of bottles of wine, grab some whiskey, check the registers that were now gone. And they left. Like that was it. It was so pointless."

Then came another scare. Upon entering the store, TJ Douglas set off the alarm. A representative from the security company called Hadley Douglas at home and asked for the password. She wracked her brain. She told her every password they every used. But it was no use. Hadley Douglas couldn’t seem to remember it.

“She’s like, 'I'm going have to call the police.' And I started sobbing and I said, I need you to understand my husband is a black man inside of a broken into liquor store," Hadley Douglas told her. "And if you send the police, you have to understand what you are condemning him to.”

To her relief, at that moment, TJ Douglas deactivated the alarm. The woman from the security company sounded emotional on the phone and apologized. The sad truth is that even on a normal day, people will walk into the couples' store and approach the oldest white person in the room. Customers assume TJ Douglas doesn't work in his own store.

"I've worked so hard to be a part of my community and to help change people's stereotypes, whether they know they have them or not," said TJ Douglas. "And then I feel like, those three hours of breaking in the windows, whether it's a black store owner or a billion dollar company, that's a dozen steps backwards right there. That's fuel for their fire, you know? And that's what kills me."

At two different moments overnight they navigated a minefield of circumstances that could potentially put TJ Douglas in danger from police. The couple knows that this tragic reality is exactly what these protests want to see changed. No one should have to live with that fear. When they told their oldest son what happened, the teen had a suggestion from one of his favorite books, "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas.

He asked them to write "Black-owned business" on the outside of their shop.

"Well, both of them, their immediate concern is 'Will Daddy get home from work every night OK?'" Hadley Douglas said. "I mean, that's where they go."

This is a family that doesn't sweep anything under the rug.

Their sons are aware of how their light skin is a privilege. The oldest makes a point to wear his hair out so people know he's a person of color. The youngest has asked about whether his mother's family would have owned their father centuries ago during slavery.  They talk about their family's legacy and have conversations around race every day. America hides from these topics, but that's not how you solve anything, they said.

Contractors bring plywood painted with the words ”Black Owned Business” into The Urban Grape, to be place into the windows. During the night of the Black Lives Matter rally, one window was broken in an act of vandalism. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Contractors bring plywood painted with the words ”Black Owned Business” into The Urban Grape, to be place into the windows. During the night of the Black Lives Matter rally, one window was broken in an act of vandalism. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

After 11 weeks of sustaining their livelihood through an outbreak, the couple cleared debris and swept glass off the floor for much of the day. They boarded up the windows and took their son's advice: spray painting two panels with the words: “Black-owned business.” TJ Douglas knows this may dissuade some. It may motivate others.

“The underlying fear of this experience for us has not been about the store. It has not been about any of that," Hadley Douglas said. "It's been about the safety of Boston's black community, the safety of TJ.  I think that's what upsets us more than anything."

They share more than once that they are not the victims here.

And windows are not lives.

"I think there's protesting and then there's everything but that," said TJ Douglas. "And so [to] the protesters that were out there with their family and their friends and holding up signs and kneeling down in the street and being respectful to law enforcement, I say keep on doing it, go out. You have The Urban Grapes' support."

On Facebook, the Douglas family shows grace and support for a larger movement. One that does not get distracted by focusing on looting or riots. One that emphasizes again and again that Black Lives Matter.

"Dreams deferred cause rage," they wrote on their profile page. "Our window is broken but the roots of this are in 400 years of knees on necks.”

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Cristela Guerra Twitter Reporter
Cristela Guerra is an arts and culture reporter for The ARTery.

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