Although Monisha Gowder has been a business owner since 2017, she didn’t experience any criminal activity at her salons until this year — and then criminals targeted her business twice in three weeks at two different locations.

Gowder pulled up to her business, the downtown Santa Cruz beauty salon Handsome Beauty Bar, on Monday to see that it had been vandalized with graffiti seemingly over the weekend, with crude white tagging along the salon’s windows.

That comes shortly after her San Jose location was burglarized Oct. 25, leaving much of her team without necessary supplies to carry out normal operations. Burglars stole microblading tools, lash extensions and electronics from the store.

“We had to scramble around the area to go to stores and get things so we could complete services for clients,” said Gowder, adding that many of the supplies they use are imported from overseas, which means pricey shipping costs and a long wait for delivery. “We’re not making corporate money, so something like this that disrupts our income is stressful for everyone involved.”

The financial stress doesn’t end there. Though she and her team were able to use acetone and window scrapers to clean up the graffiti, Gowder said her insurance company has not yet informed her whether it will cover the goods stolen from the San Jose location.

For Gowder, the experience has only reinforced her resolve to create a support system for small business owners and fellow female Santa Cruz entrepreneurs who are also navigating the challenges of running a small business in the community.

Monisha Gowder outside Handsome Beauty Bar's Santa Cruz location, which was vandalized last weekend.
Monisha Gowder outside Handsome Beauty Bar’s Santa Cruz location, which was vandalized last weekend. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

She and her employees are pushing forward with limited work days and spaced-out appointments — and she wants to show other small business owners that they can, too. On Sunday, Gowder is hosting a Women in Business Mixer at Handsome’s Pacific Avenue location. She said the event both represents her business’s resiliency and highlights the strong community of small businesses in Santa Cruz.

Gowder said she had second thoughts about hosting the event this weekend, given her tumultuous past few weeks. However, she realized that it might be just the right time to bring women in business together in support of each other.

“I want other women in business to understand that you can push through when you’re faced with things like this, and it’s not the end of the world,” said Gowder. “With the support of your staff, friends, family and community, you can get through anything.”

According to Santa Cruz Police Department data, reported property crimes per 1,000 residents as a whole were up 7% last year, going from 2,070 in 2021 to 2,225 in 2022. However, reported property crimes are down dramatically through three quarters of 2023, with 1,196 reported incidents thus far, compared to 1,730 reported through three quarters of 2022. That comes out to a 30% decrease.

Gowder added that she feels it’s much easier for burglars to take advantage of small businesses, given that many will not have high-end security systems, and thinks that a stronger stance from civic leaders and law enforcement would provide a good deterrence.

“I know a lot of California has gotten bad with thefts and burglaries happening even in broad daylight,” she said. “I think having city leaders and law enforcement stand behind small businesses and put out statements that they will prosecute or take action in these instances would show them that they can’t take advantage of small businesses.”

Gowder said she’s long considered holding an event like the one planned for Sunday, but her previous Mission Street location was too small. But now, with a bigger space downtown, she is motivated to continue hosting small business mixers — especially since she believes there should be more events connecting women in business.

“It’s been really hard doing it on my own, and part of [the event] is helping other businesses bond together and share information so we can all be successful,” said Gowder, adding that she aims to begin workshops that address business structure, taxes and other tricky nuances. “There’s so much misunderstanding that sometimes you feel scared to even ask someone for advice.”

Gowder said she is still taking the recovery process one day at a time, connecting with other similar businesses to share supplies and communicating with clients to keep them up to date on Handsome’s availability.

So, rather than getting caught up in competition, Gowder wants to build a greater sense of companionship through her mixers — in times of both hardship and success. She sees an opportunity to increase cross-promotion between similar small businesses, widen networks and foster unity.

“My goal is to bring everyone together,” she said. “I want us to see each other as friends and companions, and that there’s enough clientele out here for everyone to win.”

Gowder’s Women in Business Mixer is set for Sunday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Handsome Beauty Bar, 2030 N. Pacific Ave., Suite F, Santa Cruz.

Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.

Max Chun is the general-assignment correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Max’s position has pulled him in many different directions, seeing him cover development, COVID, the opioid crisis, labor, courts...