Protest against national chains on the Venice Boardwalk targets new Starbucks

Story by Gary Walker | Photos by Ted Soqui

A lively band of locals picketed the Venice Boardwalk Starbucks on Saturday, including boardwalk restaurant employee Christina Marquez (lower left) and skate culture veteran Tonan Ruiz (lower right)

A small but energetic crowd braved the chance of showers on Saturday afternoon to stage a protest outside the new Starbucks coffee shop on the Venice Boardwalk, jeering and at times clashing with patrons who welcomed its arrival.

That the S&P 500 coffee company now inhabits the former home of the Venice Beach Freakshow — evicted in 2017 amid widespread protest before Snapchat’s retreat from Venice — is only fueling advocacy efforts to keep national chains off the Venice Boardwalk, which many locals view as the final front against the wave of gentrification rapidly changing the neighborhood’s cultural landscape.

“The goal of the protest is for the city to create an ordinance to prohibit more national chains from coming to Ocean Front Walk,” said Mark Rago, an organizer for Venice Dogz: An Alliance for the Preservation of Venice, which convened the demonstration. “Other cities all over the country have put in ordinances to protect parts of their towns, and that’s what we should do here.”

Santa Monica City Council members recently voted to ban fast food chains from the Third Street Promenade, and Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin has voiced support for banning chains from the Venice Boardwalk to prevent displacement of locally owned businesses.

Protest participant Christina Marquez, a waitress at The Waterfront Venice (the more upscale reboot of On the Waterfront) said chain stores threaten to rob the boardwalk of its eclectic local flavor.

“We’ve always had a unique vibe here. It’s a special community feel, and we want to preserve that spirit,” said Marquez, a third-generation Venetian. “Otherwise it will become just like another shopping mall.”

Juan DeLeòn, who proclaims himself a lover of Venice, made multiple trips into Starbucks to buy coffee and snacks during the protest, drawing the ire of two demonstrators who engaged him in a sustained shouting match broken up by two police officers keeping watch.

“I’m standing up for Starbucks because they’re trying to get rid of it,” said DeLeòn, gesturing derisively at the crowd. “Starbucks hasn’t done anything wrong, and just because they don’t like them doesn’t mean they should leave. There’s nothing wrong with a Starbucks here or a McDonald’s here.”

Natalie Quiñonez lives only a few blocks away and said she visits the new Starbucks a few times a week.

“I’m happy to have them on the boardwalk because they’re inexpensive compared to other coffee shops,” Quiñonez said.

Asked why his group did not protest the opening of a Ben & Jerry’s a few blocks away last spring, Rago said Venice Dogz was initially caught off-guard. It also helps that their landlord owns independent boardwalk mainstays The Sidewalk Café and Small World Books.

“The Goodfader family is the property owner where Ben & Jerry’s have their store, and they’ve been historically good to Venice and Venetians,” Rago said.

Tony “Tonan” Ruiz, a lifelong fixture of local skate and surf culture, said the boardwalk Starbucks might be more palatable if the location hired local workers, sponsored activities for local youth and contributed to helping the homeless.

“Not giving back to the community is reason enough for them not to be here,” Ruiz said. “We have multi-million dollar companies here and there are people in Venice who are hungry and don’t have jobs,” Ruiz said.

The first raindrops of the afternoon arrived around 4 p.m., coinciding with the crowd’s dispersal under the foreboding clouds.