A Kenora business owner is speaking out and calling for change and further security measures in the downtown core after she was attacked in her store.
On the evening of Friday, December 23, Michelle Livingston was closing up Island Girl when a man entered her store, which ultimately led to the altercation. She went to Facebook Live to showcase to the community the issues of downtown security, which has been viewed thousands of times. View the video here.
Michelle was kind enough to allow us to sit down with her to explain more about the incident and speak out about social issues in Kenora:
(The audio of the interview can be found below)
First, and most importantly – are you OK, Michelle?
“Yes and no. Physically I'm okay - mentally, no. I am now afraid to be in my store. I'm afraid to leave my staff alone. And just yesterday I had somebody walk in with a big huge backpack on, you know, twice the size of me. We were kind and welcoming him, then and all of a sudden he just starts mumbling. You know, my stomach sank and I just feel sick and it makes you wanna throw up because you're so scared and you don't know what to do.
I mean, you have young girls working for you, you have women customers in your store and this guy could probably take out all of us. So those are the things that I'm not okay with. Those things that just make your stomach drop and make you feel unsafe.
My husband used to own a store downtown and after his last break-in, you just lose heart and then sadly, he sold his business. I just don't want to lose that because I love owning my shop. I love fitting women for bras, I love all my customers that come in. You get a nice relationship with them and I don't wanna lose that.
Kenora has nothing left. So without stores, I mean where are women gonna shop? We always need to shop!
Tell us what happened that night – and what was going on in your head?
We were staying open ‘till 6:00pm. It was about 5:45pm, and we had about 15 minutes left and a gentleman came into the store rambling/talking.
We were just talking to him nicely and he made it clear he had no money, but he was insisting on shopping around the store. I said ‘sorry, sir you’ll have to leave - like we're closing. We have to get home to our families’.
When I asked him to leave, that's when he kind of started switching and went crazy and started putting his fists up like he was gonna fight me and attack me. And then went through the store and started picking up and tossing racks very ferociously and breaking product. I was thinking ‘this guy's going to destroy everything that I've worked so hard for in a matter of seconds and I'm not seeing it go down like that.’
I grabbed the shovel that was by the door to kind of stop him ‘cause he was ready to fight me and I didn't have anything to defend myself with. Unfortunately the shovel was not good enough. He grabbed it from me, took me to the ground and you know, started beating me on the ground. Then I had to quick react. But before that, once he started putting his arms up, I said to my young staff, ‘call 911’. I knew the situation was not going to be good.
After he had me on the ground, I was able to get up and defend myself and get him off me. I grabbed a bar off the wall and held that up to him. And it wasn't until then that I was like ‘no, get off me! Don't touch me.’
He ended up running away from me and falling on the ground. And that's when I thought ‘the police aren't here yet, I don't know how long they're gonna be.’ So I went on Facebook Live just so he knew that the world's watching whatever he does, like there's witnesses and then the police came.
You mentioned quickly on your Facebook Live video that the police did come pretty quickly. What happened when they got there?
When they got there, they quickly picked him up and put him in the back of the cruiser. It was somebody that they knew. The gentleman had just gotten out of jail. I mean there were no questions asked. They knew he was up to no good.
29-year-old Randy Kurahara was reportedly charged with assault and mischief under $5,000. He was held that night at the Kenora OPP detachment. He made a phone court appearance the next day.
He is currently in custody and will appear in court today. (December 28)
This is the second assault at a local business in well under a month. Speaking of the recent one at the Red Apple Store where an employee suffered minor injuries and was unable to return to work for a period of time. You mentioned in your original video that if you want local businesses to stay in Kenora, ‘things have to change’.
What do you think the City of Kenora and the O.P.P could do better to protect our downtown core?
To protect our downtown core, we need to stop handing out needles. We need a police station right downtown, right in the core. When you're in the downtown core, even 15 minutes is a long time to wait.
We can't have homeless shelters right downtown. I mean, I leave work and all the addicts, all my shoplifters are sitting across the street having free coffee and getting free food. And meanwhile I'm in my own building and I don't even feel safe. So something has to give.
You mentioned earlier that even just leaving your establishment after hours, even in your parking lot, it's not comfortable.
In Kenora, when you come to work, you first of all find somebody lying on the ground. You have to make sure if they're alive or not, you have to clean up after them, the feces, the needles. And then once that happens, then you can start your day.
There's never a day that you don't have an addict or somebody that you know is either going to steal from you or do something to you that comes through your store. And it's gotten to the point where you don't get a chance to physically actually do your job.
Michelle, what would you want to tell fellow local businesses?
If I had anything to say to other local business owners, I’d say ‘let's hang in there, let's work together.’
I think if we work together as a community, which our community is absolutely amazing, all the people that have reached out that have offered their help, like I must say, I think we're all in this together. And I think if our whole community can come together, we can make a change and bring back Kenora and make it what it used to be. Make it this beautiful place that people will travel all around the world to come visit.
I have faith in our new city council, our new mayor that things will change.
You didn't let this incident affect your business at the moment to continue the incentive for residents and visitors shop local. You could have closed for a short while after this incident, but you didn't. And good for you.
Really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us, Michelle, and we wish you all the best in the new year.
Thank you, Kim. I appreciate your kind words and your support.
Q104, KenoraOnline is aware of the recent harassment incident at Spirit Oak Tea Company. A request for more information has been sent.