One year ago Jeff Willett, pale with shock, sat on the floor of his Virginia Beach jewelry store sifting through thousands of pieces of broken glass. His shattered display cases were empty. The looters of the previous night had left little behind.
Never again, Willett said. This year he plans to close his store for the Labor Day weekend.
"I can't take a chance on losing everything again this year," said Willett, 38. "I almost lost my home; my credit rating is screwed up."
Willett is not looking forward to a holiday weekend that last year exploded into three days of racial violence after a mostly black crowd of 100,000 defiant young people converged on a resort city that had openly discouraged their visit.
He is not alone in his anxiety.
Many of those with vivid memories of the ugliness that engulfed Virginia's most populous city last year still have strong feelings about what took place there.
In several communities along the East Coast, including the District and Baltimore, some blacks are calling for a boycott. And within the Virginia Beach community -- although most city residents are hoping for the best -- some are not necessarily jumping for joy about the return of the annual gathering of young blacks.
Last year, dozens of youths and officers were injured and 100 stores were looted, resulting in $1.4 million in damage. About 1,200 police and military personnel were deployed. As a result, the wounds of Greekfest '89 remain tender for some -- despite this year's massive planning by city officials and community leaders, both black and white.
"We feel we were treated like animals," said Deidre Perry, president of the Howard University Panhellenic Council. Virginia Beach residents "had no respect for us as young black people."
Ras Baraka, vice president of the university Student Association, said, "White kids go to the beach and they make movies about that. We made a movie too -- for the news stations -- pictures of us getting beaten by police."
According to Perry, "there are going to be some students who want to go, just to see what happens . . . . But a lot of people aren't going back."
Mark Thompson, a junior at the University of the District of Columbia, has been active in organizing a boycott of this year's beach festivities. "There was a state of martial law imposed on unarmed black youth," Thompson said. "It was living hell."
"Some students will go back to prove a point," said Sheri Warren, who is also active in boycott efforts. "This is America and we can go wherever we want to. But the number of students returning will be dramatically reduced. People expect us to give our money after they have beaten us?" Don't count on it, she said.
Students in Baltimore, Atlanta, South Carolina and North Carolina are also planning alternatives to activities scheduled at Virginia Beach.
"I have a sense that the whole thing is fragmenting somewhat," said Flo McDaniel, executive director of the city's hotel-motel association. As of Aug. 21, a survey of hotel and motels showed a 34 percent occupancy rate. At their peak during last Labor Day weekend, hotels and motels had a 70 to 75 percent occupancy rate.
"We'd like to see more business," McDaniel said. But she noted that the numbers don't reflect disaster and that it was unclear whether more people would register closer to Labor Day weekend.
Because of the uncertainty, some ocean-front store owners aren't counting on making large amounts of money this year.
"I'm locking the door for the four days," said Frank Baumann, owner of the Seaside Raw Bar. "I can't support my business with a 100,000 black kids in the city. I can't support my business with a 100,000 white kids here . . . . They don't spend well. They don't tip well. It's not a matter of color. It's a matter of dollars in my pocket."
Baumann's shop was not looted last year, but he still doesn't have fond memories of Greekfest '89. He remembers youths being belligerent, arrogant and "cursing" his employees for no reason. "My help has refused to work," he said.
Joseph Hawa, of the resort retailer's association, acknowledged that many ocean-front businesses were having difficulty finding employees who want to work next weekend. But "95 percent will be open," said Hawa, whose own businesses saw $87,000 in thefts and damage last year. "We realize that the problems were caused by a small number of people" and the students took the blame, Hawa said.
"There is an opportunity for a good time for those that want to have one," Hawa said. "I'm feeling positive about the weekend."
Nate Thomas, a Norfolk State University sophomore, echoed Hawa's optimism. "There are a lot of planned events and I think a lot of people are coming."
There were no scheduled events last year and city officials were roundly criticized for not properly planning and not providing leadership.
This year a biracial committee has developed a slew of activities. There will be a job fair, swimsuit competition and continuous live entertainment along the ocean front. On Saturday and Sunday, there will be concerts in the city's Red Wing Park featuring such contemporary artists as Miki Howard, Experience Unlimited (EU), the Good Girls, Today and M.C. Lyte.
Thomas, who is part of Norfolk State University's student leadership program, pointed out that proceeds from some of the events will be channeled to scholarships for minority students.
"We've put an awful lot into this," said City Manager Aubrey V. Watts Jr. "City employees are ready. We've got hundreds of volunteers . . . . We are trying to be good hosts."
More than $200,000 in private money has been raised to sponsor the weekend. City officials have allotted more than $750,000 in overtime money for Laborfest and expect the overall cost to provide services for the event to total more than $1 million.
The city's involvement has some residents grumbling. Earl Midgett, manager of the Aquarius Motel, said some people are upset about the restrictions on free travel along the ocean front and about the amount of money allotted, especially in the wake of uncertain economic times. "We have homeless people here we can't find money for," Midgett said.
"There is the concern that we are doing more than what we would do for some other groups," said Robert W. Clyburn, who was elected to the city council in May.
But Clyburn and council member Nancy K. Parker agreed that while there is some apprehension, most residents support efforts to make Laborfest a success. They also tout the planning as improving race relations in the city.
"The majority of people recognize that we cannot afford to have a repeat of last year," Parker said. "Virginia Beach is not a racist city. We want to erase the cloud that has hung over us for over a year."