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Plywood and quick thinking: How one Vancouver business saved itself

Rioters smash the glass at Future Shop in Vancouver June 15, 2011.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

As some rioters were arrested, others were outed on the Internet and a full review of Wednesday's debacle was promised by politicians, many in the city continued to wonder why police didn't spot and tackle trouble sooner - especially when some business owners did so on their own.

When the Boston Bruins scored the first goal of Game 7 on Wednesday, still in the first period, MAC Cosmetics called 24 Hour Glass Ltd. with an urgent request: come and board up our windows.

"While we were boarding the storefront, pedestrians passing by asked us what we were doing," Ed Roche, sales manager of 24 Hour Glass Ltd., said. "They were laughing and they thought we were quite silly, and we responded, 'Just in case.'"

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24 Hour Glass had a team on call that night, with a van loaded with plywood, two-by-fours and screws parked downtown. The 24 metres of MAC's Robson-and-Hornby storefront survived without a scratch.

Other businesses didn't fare as well, despite efforts to protect their staff and merchandise. Windows were broken at restaurants, coffee shops and stores, including the Bay's flagship downtown Vancouver location.

Store director Dana Hall said the company hired extra security staff. Holt Renfrew employees were told to go home early.

By 8 p.m. Wednesday, managers at the Granville Street outlet of London Drugs had decided crowds were getting too large and unruly and shut the doors.

The store had extra-strength windows, metal bars and surveillance cameras, but that did not stop hundreds of rioters "bent on stealing" from ramming their way into the store - an effort that took about two hours - and then ransacking it. Once in, they cleaned out the electronics and cosmetics department in 15 minutes, London Drugs President and CEO Wynne Powell said.

"No store, no amount of police could have stopped a crowd that big," Mr. Powell said, adding that he is grateful that the police had gotten his staff out safely before the mobs rushed in.

"The police were definitely holding back from being physical with individuals and they probably were counselled to control crowds in a friendly manner, but maybe, in hindsight, that's not something one can do and still protect the public."

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Some critics say the police and the city had the information required to take additional or different precautions, but didn't heed it.

Bob Whitelaw, now an Ottawa-based security consultant, wrote a report for the B.C. attorney-general following the 1994 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver that included more than 100 recommendations, including 15 main points that included a ban on parked vehicles on downtown streets and a focus on instigators.

"There are probably 40 or 50 people there intent on creating mayhem," Mr. Whitelaw said. "You need to have police out there and anyone else out there who wears a uniform."

Told that many fans observed groups of seemingly intoxicated young men gathering in streets and alleys, Mr. Whitelaw said such groups should have been challenged before they could cause trouble.

"Liquid courage, overdrinking, public drinking - those are public charges, they are breaking the law - they should be contained and dealt with immediately," he said.

Even if such groups don't have alcohol on their persons, police can check identities and make it clear that the police are keeping a close eye, he added.

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story identified Ed Roche as the sales manager of MAC Cosmetics. Mr. Roche is the sales manager of 24 Hour Glass Ltd. This version has been corrected.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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