Three seconds, immense damage
On a recent morning, bookstore owner Ed Devereux showed up for work to find his shopâ€™s plate glass window marred with a series of indecipherable letters and squiggles.
As Devereux quickly learned, he was the latest victim of a new and costly type of graffiti that is becoming increasingly common in Chicago and elsewhere.
The â€œtaggersâ€ who defaced Devereuxâ€™s Unabridged Books in Lakeview had used an acid etching pen widely available at art stores. While painted graffiti can be removed with a pressure washer, the acid etchings cannot. The only remedy is replacing the entire window.
In Devereuxâ€™s case, that will run about $1,000.
â€œThe cost really adds up,â€ said Devereux. â€œItâ€™s a big headache.â€
Devereuxâ€˜s insurance policy comes with a $1,000 deductible, so heâ€™ll be paying for the window himself, as well as shelling out cash to buy protective film to cover his new window.
Acid taggers have caused serious damage in cities from Vancouver to San Francisco, leaving behind marks that lack the vibrant color and artistic sensibility of traditional graffiti.
In Lakeview, the problem started about a year ago, said Maureen Martino, executive director of a business group in the neighborhood.
Since then, her members have reported more 400 incidents in which acid pens have been used to damage storefronts.
â€œIf you donâ€™t catch it within 20 minutes, the window needs to be replaced,â€ she said.
The attacks have become frequent enough that some merchants donâ€™t even bother to replace tagged windows, fearing that theyâ€™ll just be hit again.
That has an impact on business, said Martino.
â€œThe district has become unattractive for anyone to come visit,â€ she said.
Graffiti also breeds more graffiti, as well as other criminal activity, said Joe Cox, community policing officer for the 23rd District, which includes Unabridged Books.
â€œIt starts to look like the community is not being cared for," he said. "Itâ€™s terribly frustrating for the police to try to catch these people. It takes three seconds to do immense damage.â€
Cox said acid tagging appears to be catching on citywide. The taggers are typically not drawing gang signs, he said. Instead, theyâ€™re etching their initials into windows.
Martinoâ€™s group, the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, has responded by offering to pay up to 80 percent of the cost of protective film for its member merchants.
The film prevents the acid from damaging the underlying glass. Once a treated window has been tagged, a merchant has to replace the film, rather than the more expensive window.
So far, more than 25 businesses have installed the film. Others are lining up to do so.
â€œWe have a waiting list right now,â€ for the treatment, Martino said.