An American flag with Pride colors hangs in a Capitola Village storefront
An American flag with Pride colors in Ethos’ storefront window in Capitola Village.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

Capitola Village businesses double down on support for LGBTQ+ community after Pride flag vandalism

The Lumen Gallery in Capitola Village saw its Pride flags stolen on two separate occasions this year. Some neighboring businesses are surprised, while others are not. Lumen Gallery owner Cierra Ryczek has ordered more flags and plans to give them to businesses interested in displaying them to show their support.

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Several Capitola Village businesses are banding together to show support for the LGBTQ+ community and one of their neighboring merchants after thieves twice made off with Pride flags from the Lumen Gallery storefront.

Lumen’s owner, Cierra Ryczek, said the gallery began putting up Pride flags on the front of its store in summer 2022, in part as a response to seeing an increase in pro-law enforcement Thin Blue Line and American flags around the village.

“I’ve had a business in the village for 12 years, and we started to notice a lot of Blue Lives Matter and American flags,” she said, adding that she is friends with other owners in the village flying those flags and has never had any problems with them. “I thought if I put up some inclusive flags, it’d kind of help balance it out.”

She said she was met with a lot of positive responses and kept the flags up past Pride month last June. She soon found a version of the American flag that had the traditional rainbow Pride colors, along with other LGBTQ+ symbols on it. She added that flag to the storefront flag pole bracket.

Everything was fine until this spring, when Ryczek noticed that one of her flags had been taken. Almost exactly a week later, the other flag was taken. She said her flags seemed to be the only ones taken, and to her knowledge, hers was the only business with Pride flags displayed on the outside of the store.

Lumen Gallery in Capitola Village.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“All the other flags in the village were still up, right? So it’s definitely about the content of my flag,” she said.

She eventually replaced both flags, only for the same thing to happen again in early July. She said the targeting of her store’s Pride flags is a commentary on how intolerant some in Santa Cruz County truly are of diversity.

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Ryczek has been in communication with the Capitola Police Department, which is investigating the thefts and assisting with surveillance to prevent future vandalism. Captain Sarah Ryan said the department is “all over it.”

Now, other stores in the village are planning to double down with Lumen and display Pride flags as well. Ryczek has ordered more flags and will distribute them to other interested local stores.

Jennifer Young, sales manager for Xandra Swimwear in Capitola Village, said the targeted flag thefts and vandalism came as a surprise to her and the store’s staff and added that she is curious to know whether the culprits are locals or not.

Young said Xandra will fly its own Pride flag in solidarity and to show that the business and staff “welcome everyone.” It is also reaching out to other businesses to see who else is willing to join them.

Xandra Swimwear in Capitola Village.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Some neighboring merchants have told Ryczek that they’re worried about displaying Pride flags out of fear of losing business from customers who don’t support the LGBTQ+ community.

“It’s a bummer because it feels like Santa Cruz puts on this front that we’re so liberal, but there’s an underbelly in Santa Cruz that people don’t talk about,” Ryczek said. “It’s really sad that we’re afraid to stand up for each other because of hate, aggression and violence in our community. It doesn’t feel like Santa Cruz to me.”

Morgan Sandusky, store manager at Ethos — a local, female-owned low-waste goods shop — said she was not particularly surprised at the vandalism. She’s heard a fair share of offhand comments about Pride flags and complaints of “changing the American flag” to one with Pride colors.

“I do remember an instance of a guy asking us why we had a Black Lives Matter sticker in our window, too,” she said, noting that there has not been any vandalism to Ethos.

Sandusky said Ethos staff immediately wanted to support Lumen, especially as most of Ethos’ employees and shop associates are queer. She also cites the emergence of more Thin Blue Line flags as providing an extra push to show support for an underrepresented community. Ethos has its own American flag bearing Pride colors displayed in a storefront window.

The stores don’t plan to stop showing their support for LGBTQ+ pride anytime soon — and they hope that more Capitola Village neighbors will join them.

“I hope all of the businesses down here can fly these flags,” said Young. “I don’t think whoever did this would have time to run around and take all of them down, and if they do, that’s just really sad.”