Eyesore Subject

by Nate Hunter

Graffiti and vandalism — a blight on the retail landscape.

Few people will argue that “It’s art.” Most view graffiti as a blight on the visual landscape. And if it’s truly a graphic canker, then it creates a toxic environment. For the retail industry, graffiti dramatically affects your customer’s experience. In an effort to combat the pervasive nature of graffiti it is truly productive to be in partnership with a professional graffiti removal vendor or handyman service that understands the importance of delivering intelligent and rapid responses across various types of graffiti. Their expertise and facility with safe and effective products and equipment are the keys to quickly and safely resolving graffiti vandalism issues.

What is Graffiti?

graffiti1So just what are we talking about? What is graffiti? Mostly it is referred to as “tagging.” The United States Bureau of Justice reports that tagging is the most common type of property vandalism (35%). Taggers come from all neighborhoods in your city — and they aren’t necessarily gang members, although they often may be. Generally they are juvenile vandals seeking recognition from their peers. They use spray paint, permanent markers, grinders, glass cutters, acid, stickers and anything else they can find to write, affix or etch their “tags” to any surface which they hope their peers will see. These taggers call themselves writers, who strive to “write” their uniquely and distinctively styled tag where it can be seen by as many people as possible.

One annoying weapon in the tagger’s arsenal is what is known as “slap-tagging” or using stickers with the tagger’s identifying moniker or message “artfully” rendered on the sticker. In recent years, this form of graffiti has evolved to the point where the tags are now incredibly difficult to remove. Stickers are resistant to UV (sun) degradation and have unbelievably aggressive adhesive. The popularity of this medium has sadly spawned an entire industry of high quality, cheap sticker providers — mostly from offshore, online businesses. Fortunately, professional graffiti removal vendors or handyman services are trained and capable of removing these eyesores!

Most graffiti vandalism takes place in the late-night or early morning hours. It might be the product of gang activity, used to identify and mark territories. It could even tell stories of associations or conflicts between gang members, or direct information about where and how to acquire illegal drugs.

Besides tagging, there are other forms of graffiti that we won’t cover in detail in this article — though it might be helpful for you to know the terms. The “throwup,” or outline, is the second most common form of graffiti in the U.S. It is usually one or two colors, done quickly with bubble letters and a single color filling the letters. A “piece” (short for masterpiece) is generally larger than a tag and contains at least three colors. Pieces have to be planned and the location scouted well to allow for the time required to complete it. A “blockbuster” is giant graffiti, usually in two colors, often applied with rollers rather than spray cans. Typically block letters, they can be seen from long distances because of their size. You will find these on rooftops, riverbeds or seawalls. “Wildstyle” comprises graffiti of interlocking letters with lots of arrows. Because of the complexity of the lettering, wildstyle is nearly impossible to decipher by anyone other than wildstyle writers. Finally, there are “productions,” which are large pieces or murals on which many writers collaborate. A production is the one form of graffiti usually done legally on the wall of a property owner sympathetic to the “art.”

The High Costs of Graffiti

As of 2008, the NoGraf Network Conference of experts estimated annual costs for vandalism associated with graffiti in the U.S. at $25 billion! What is even more frightening is that this figure does not include direct costs for cleanup and removal incurred by private property or business owners, nor does it include indirect costs from loss of business or lowering of property values due to graffiti! Most experts agree that property values are reduced by as much as 15% in areas where graffiti is allowed to remain and proliferate.

The National Urban Institute lists five graffiti-related impacts to neighborhoods and businesses. The first is that graffiti intimidates residents. Because most people don’t understand graffiti culture, they automatically assume that graffiti vandalism is the work of gangs. Because they fear violent criminals, they feel insecure and unsafe.

Secondly, graffiti scares away customers. When a public entity or private business allows graffiti to remain in place for an extended period of time, it has enormous and compelling effects. One of the most difficult things for retail operators is that graffiti leaves the impression that an area is economically depressed, and thus unsafe. People may think that the business either can’t afford maintenance — or doesn’t care — about the condition of the property. Take that thinking along a logical path: If the business owner doesn’t care about the appearance of the store, why would they care about customer service or quality of products and goods? If the potential customer thinks the business is unconcerned about quality or service, why would they want to shop there?

The third impact listed is that graffiti discourages tourism. Someone visiting from another place is looking for beauty, peace and enjoyment. Graffiti leaves a far different impression.

Fourthly, graffiti that remains is an open invitation to street gangs and other vandals. Taggers and gang members look for those places where their tags or messages will remain visible for the longest period of time. Time and statistics prove there is a direct correlation between how long graffiti is allowed to remain — and the amount of new graffiti that will appear.

Finally, graffiti attracts crime in general. Criminals see the same things that potential customers do. They are much more likely to be found in places where they believe that the property owners don’t care. That’s why you typically find unsavory activities like gang and drug activity in places where graffiti is rampant.

Strategies to Fight Back

Here are a few strategies to keep your business free from graffiti — and to protect from the losses graffiti inevitably brings:

1. Partner with a professionally trained graffiti removal vendor or handyman service. Well trained and adequately equipped professionals will be able to remove unsightly graffiti quickly, safely and efficiently.

2. Ongoing, focused property upkeep. Keep the appearance of your facility neat and clean. Repair broken fences; keep litter and trash from your parking lot; don’t allow weeds or landscaping to get overgrown or out of control. Increased lighting with motion sensors can have a dramatic effect to quickly reduce the amount of graffiti. Vandals don’t want to be caught!

3. Remove graffiti instantly. Studies conducted in Los Angeles have shown that when removed within 24 to 48 hours, graffiti almost never returns! This is probably the best way to show your customers — and the vandals — that you mean business and will continue to refuse graffiti on your property. Professional graffiti removal vendors or experienced handymen services can also provide sacrificial coating for open walls that when graffiti is discovered they can pressure wash off, apply another sacrificial coat, and the wall appears clean and fresh.

4. Where possible, control access to your property. Utilize landscaping like thorny bushes, plants and vines to discourage access to your walls. Cover drainpipes and move dumpsters away from the building; this will limit access to your roof, which is often one of the most vulnerable areas. It is hard to clean these areas and provides a giant canvas on which to “write.”

5. Install or improve lighting around your building. This can create a natural surveillance and will discourage vandals.

6. Educate. Yourself and your staff. If your business sells spray paint, felt markers or tools that can be used for etching, make sure your staff understands these things are prime targets for shoplifting. Extra precautions should be taken to keep these items secure within your store.

There’s a famous criminology theory called “The Broken Windows Theory.” The premise is that monitoring and maintaining urban environments in a well-ordered condition may discourage further vandalism and prevent the vandalism from escalating to more serious crime. To illustrate the theory, a building with broken windows invites vandals to break more windows. Left unrepaired, the vandals destroy the rest of the windows, possibly breaking into the structure, eventually squatting and actually cooking over open fires inside. At this point, the destruction is almost complete.

Overall, the costs of graffiti and vandalism — along with their effects on our society — are staggering. The good news is that by implementing reasonable and cost-efficient strategies as outlined above, you can mitigate those costs for your business.




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