Ask Boston Board Up owner Lou Falzarano what business has been like since last Sunday’s peaceful protests gave way to a violent and chaotic scene in downtown Boston that night, and he’ll tell you...
Wait a minute, he has a phone call.
Anyway, sorry. He’ll tell you that ... hang on, hang on. He’s getting another call.
All set? OK.
Falzarano, who co-owns the business with his 31-year-old son, Nicholas, will tell you that he’s certainly been busier than usual this week, both putting up plywood covers on windows damaged by looters, and replying to calls from businesses that avoided being hit by vandals — and hope to continue doing so if things again get out of hand.
As more and more protests against the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police emerge across the country as well as here in Massachusetts, drawing massive crowds into the streets, it’s left some business owners in the area concerned about the potential for damaged property, the likes of which was seen in Boston last Sunday night and then in Brockton this past Wednesday, when demonstrators clashed with officers in riot gear.
For Falzarano, a retired firefighter who has spent decades in the construction industry, it’s led to near-constant calls for reinforcements; mini wooden fortresses and protective sheets of plywood going up over storefronts and window panes, mostly as a preemptive measure.
“[Tuesday] night was the first time I was in bed before 1 a.m.,” he said in a phone interview this week. “The rate of the calls all at once is um — it’s a little bit different.”
The company’s presence has become so commonplace along roads like Newbury Street and other parts of Back Bay and downtown in recent days that people passing through the stretch of temporarily shuttered boutique shops have been quick to notice.
From Boston Strong to Boston Board Up. A real sign of the times. pic.twitter.com/DoL3LliapL— David Abel (@davabel) June 2, 2020
A night after massive peaceful protests in Boston, lots of high-end shops on Newbury Street are boarded up. I’m particularly curious about this branding moment for “Boston Board Up” on Zara’s boards. pic.twitter.com/Ix5u4kkVeF— Zoe Greenberg (@zoegberg) June 3, 2020
Besides downtown and Newbury Street, Falzarano, his son, and their work crews have been doing pre-boarding in the Seaport and near Boylston Street, as well as fielding inquiries from customers all around Greater Boston. They even got calls from Rhode Island, after stores were looted and windows were smashed this week, but wanted to take care of the city first.
“This morning I thought I was getting caught up,” he said Tuesday. Then three dozen phone calls came in within 30 minutes, with similar requests. “It was crazy."
Falzarano had been busy helping to secure businesses even before last Sunday’s protest went south. And when it did, his employees were caught in the action, he said. As they tried to meet the demands of customers that evening, people were running around the streets of downtown, while police deployed tear gas nearby.
“We were trying to get out of the way,” he said. “It was different to watch the goings-on.”
That night and into the next morning left them tending to both broken windows as well as new requests for precautionary board-ups.
“We focused on emergency securement before we shifted back to pre-boarding,” he said.
While Falzarano was willing to talk about the uptick in calls from businesses due to what’s transpired lately, he was quick to say that his Stoneham-based company would rather not be doing this type of service to begin with.
He got into this work years ago in order help people caught off guard by a sudden emergency, he said, a venture inspired by combining his experiences as a first responder and time as a construction worker.
Day-to-day, Falzarano typically responds to calls for cars into buildings, fires that have burned through homes, and trees that have fallen onto properties — scenarios where police or firefighters may need to secure unanticipated damage quickly. Those calls have still been pouring in, he said, on top of everything else.
“My ‘Why do you do this?’,” he said of his business, “is because I want to help people.”
Showing up for jobs because of the burst of vandalism last Sunday — or fears of vandalism — is slightly new territory. But he stressed that he wants to be of assistance with what’s going on, not capitalize on a tender moment that’s brought about unrest in the city and elsewhere.
“I don’t want to be busy because that means somebody is in crisis," he said. “But I want to be that guy that I can go in and help them when they are.”
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.