Queer-owned bookstore victim of break-in, vandalism

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Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

On Saturday, July 28, Capitol Hill's newest bookstore received a harsh welcome to the neighborhood. In the early hours of the morning, Nook & Cranny Books was vandalized and broken into by unidentified suspects.

Hours later, store owner Maren Comendant discovered the damage. "I got in around 7:30 on Saturday to open the store, and the first thing I noticed when I pulled up was that the... benches in front were gone. I was confused by that," she said. "Then I came in and looked out the window and saw that they were propped up against the telephone pole over there, just randomly."

The metal benches that were permanently installed in front of the store had been ripped out of the ground with such force that some of the brick from the sidewalk was also missing. The vandals did not take the benches far, however. As Comendant noted, they were just propped up against a pole across the street.

"I noticed all this stuff over here was on the floor, and the screen on the window was missing," Comendant recalled. "So, I checked the electronics, and they knew right where I was hiding them. That's all they took, the POS iPad, my laptop, the speakers, the wireless speakers we had, anything they could resell."

The one thing the robbers left behind? Books. "Speaking from experience, there is a low resale value on books," Comendant said.

Based on the state of the store following the robbery, Comendant does not think it was related to the vandalization of the benches out front but rather a very unlucky coincidence. Whereas the latter did cause minor property damage, the robbery hardly left a mess.

"Luckily, they jimmied the window. They didn't even damage the screen. They just slid it over, jimmied the window, climbed in, and closed the window behind them, like a gentleman," she said. "Then they ordered $60 worth of Denny's pancakes on my laptop, so we know they're a class act."

The robbers could not figure out how to get into the cash till, so they only walked away with a small haul of electronic devices. However, even though the store was spared broken windows and the loss of cash, plenty of damage has still been done.

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

The nightmare continues
"I didn't truly start panicking until that DoorDash order came in, and I realized that he had access to everything on my laptop. Everything," Comendant said. "Any saved passwords, any saved credit cards, any old tax returns that have my Social Security card number on them. He has everything."

The last few days have been dedicated to damage control, as Comendant has had to file police reports and insurance claims and take a detailed look into her accounts to ensure that her identity has not been compromised. "I had to freeze all accounts and flag my credit just in case. It sucks."

Despite it all, the worst part of the break-in is that it occurred just a month after Nook & Cranny opened. "I've had break-ins to my car and my house before, and it always feels a little violating. In this case, we're so new, you know? And this has been hard. There's been a lot of stuff in my personal life... on top of opening a new business, which is hard on its own... The universe needs to cut me a break here. That would be nice, and it's not. It's not."

Adding the stress of a break-in to the already-stressful first year of opening a business has been a lot for Comendant. Now she is feeling even more overwhelmed than before. "It's rough, and there's a lot of ripple effects from something like this," she said. "Aside from having to freeze all my accounts, having to replace all electronics, the card reader here, which works perfectly fine, I have to buy a new one, because it's not compatible. I can't unpair it from the old iPad without having it here. So, stuff like that. It's just a lot."

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

How to help Nook & Cranny
Now that a few days have passed since the incident, Comendant is getting back on her feet. "I'm doing better than Saturday, for sure. I was pretty pissed when I first found out," she said. "The people who do that kind of shit, well, maybe they do realize the ramifications, but I like to think they don't. Otherwise, they would be robbing a Walgreens, you know. It's a bummer for sure. It could have been worse, but it still sucks."

Comendant is considering starting a small crowd-funding effort to help the store in case the money from the insurance claim doesn't come through. But in the meantime, she says the best thing the community can do to help Nook & Cranny is to come in and buy books.

"Come in and buy stuff, because that's what's going to keep us afloat. It seems obvious, but that really is the biggest help. Just come in and buy books, please," she said.

"To be perfectly honest, I can't afford to replace all this at the moment, because we are just starting and struggling. Please come by, say hi, because that's why I like doing this, and please buy books. That will help."

For the most part, the community has already come together to voice their support for Nook & Cranny after the incident. "It's shitty. It's like 'Welcome to the neighborhood, let's break into your store,' but everyone has rallied for sure," Comendant said. "I put up a sign that said 'Closed due to break-in, thank you for understanding,' and someone wrote, 'I'm so sorry to hear that, we'll be back.' Everyone has been very sweet."

As for the robbers and vandals, Comendant has a special book recommendation for them, as she does for everyone who visits the store. "What do they need to read? Probably a book on respect," she said, laughing as she thumbed through her collection. "I do have his address; I could drop a book off for him. That would be hilarious."

"Oh, I have the perfect book. This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. I recommend this to everyone. It's about a small fish who steals a big fish's hat and then tries to get away with it, because he thinks the hat looks better on him, and he gets his comeuppance in the end. It's a trilogy. A hat trilogy about karma. Don't steal people's hats — or their laptops."

Nook & Cranny is at 324 15th Ave. E. on Capitol Hill.