Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA PLAZA – When two customers in a row were a few cents short on purchases at Arcata Liquors last night, friendly strangers covered the cost of their beer and cigars. Smiles and good feelings ruled the moment, but quickly turned to anger and ultimately, broken glass.
Seconds after the surge of magnanimity, Snickers bars had plummeted earthward, words were exchanged and a customer encouraged never to return to the store. By morning, the Plaza shop's front windows had all been broken out and two neon signs wrecked, for an estimated cost to store owner Jeff Nagan of $3,000.
The saga began just after 11 p.m., when a man attempted to buy a bottle of beer. Between his bills and the change he'd meticulously counted out, he was still 20 cents short.
As seen on security video, a young man with a skateboard waiting in line behind him during the lengthy transaction, perhaps wishing to expedite matters, gave the beer-buyer a dollar to cover the cost, and the transaction was complete.
The beer buyer then offered his young benefactor back the change, but the young man refused, and handed it back to the beer purchaser.
The youth, in blue hoodie and backwards cap with a green backpack, then advanced to the counter and asked for a pack of Backwoods Wild 'n' Mild All Natural Cigars, which came to $7.60. But having given the previous customer the dollar, this left the cigar buyer 60 cents short.
Continuing the spirit of generosity established by the cigar buyer and attempting some instant Karma, clerk Will Thomspon, who was off duty but was there to buy something and was standing with the the on-duty clerk behind the counter, offered to cover the lad's cigar expense. He offered the working clerk – whose name Nagan asked not be used, and who wasn't available for comment – a $5 bill.
But the clerk rejected Thompson's offer, flipping his bill away. A short discussion ensued, during which Thompson said the on-duty clerk refused his $5 bill because he thought the off-duty clerk was trying to combine his and the youth's transactions, effectively cutting in line.
After more discussion, Thompson again offered money to resolve the imbroglio, and this time the clerk threw his money to the floor. Thompson picked it up and offered it yet again, and this time the clerk relented and accepted it, letting the young man complete his cigar purchase.
Though he had his all-natural cigars in hand, the unidentified young man was apparently unsatisfied with the transaction and briefly lingered in the store, exchanging remarks with the staff. On exiting the store, according to Thompson, the youth pushed a box of candy off a rack. In the security video, candy can be seen scattering across the floor.
Thompson and the clerk gave chase, grabbing the lad by his green backpack outside the door and warning him, "Dude, don't come back."
The matter might have ended there, but at 2:30 a.m., Nagan got a call from Arcata Police notifying him that the windows to his store had been broken out. Thompson said he found out from talking to others on the Plaza that the youth had returned with friends to exact revenge on the store.
The embittered customer was armed with a wheelchair, one reportedly taken from Plaza habitué Sunflower. The tempestuous youth is said to have flung the wheelchair at the window without effect, then utilized some other object to break out all the store's windows.
Two neon Budweiser signs were also damaged. Nagan had to come to work in the middle of the night, where he held vigil to guard his store and its merchandise.
By morning, a glass company was on hand replacing the windows. The youth, whose name may be "Ty," has not yet been identified.
Video of the incident will be available shortly. Developing...