The situation is growing more tense at a frozen yogurt shop in downtown Durango after the shop’s front window was broken earlier this week, prompting the owner to put up a sign that reads, “I shoot to kill.”
Durango Police Department Cmdr. Rita Warfield said officers were called to Top That Frozen Yogurt, located in the 600 block of Main Avenue, around 10:40 a.m. Sunday for a report of vandalism.
Officers arrived to find the window just left of the entrance shattered. Warfield said the window was double-pane, and only the exterior window was broken, not the interior.
It appears the window was smashed by a Smirnoff Ice bottle, the remnants of which were found with the broken glass. The estimated cost in damages was about $800, Warfield said.
Top That’s security cameras captured video of two people outside the store the previous night, at around 10:45 p.m., drinking the alcoholic beverage. Once finished, one of the people, out of view, throws the bottle at the window.
The security cameras, however, do not get a good look at the subjects or show any identifying features. Police had no suspects as of Thursday afternoon, Warfield said.
The Durango Police Department’s newly installed security cameras in downtown Durango captured a couple images of possible suspects, Warfield said. Anyone who recognizes them is asked to call the department.
Ryan Bartholomew, co-owner of Top That, said he has begun putting up a sign at night that says, “I shoot to kill,” which is taken down in the day for the safety of his employees.
A video taken by a bystander of Bartholomew putting up the “shoot to kill” sign outside his store, widely circulated on social media, captures him saying to the person recording: “Vandalize my s*** again, bullet to the face.”
The broken front window has been boarded up with a message spray-painted on it: “Broken by the tolerant left.”
In an interview with The Durango Herald, Bartholomew said the signs and the vitriolic rhetoric are a product of months of intense backlash and vandalism from the community, which culminated this week with the broken window.
“It’s standing up for ourselves,” Bartholomew said.
This is the latest in a string of, at times, volatile incidents involving the dessert shop and its co-owner.
Earlier this year, Top That put up political signs and flags outside the shop for several Republican candidates, including a Trump-Pence sign. The yogurt shop then began offering a 10% discount to customers not wearing masks, which went against public health orders aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Then, Durango students participating in a climate change march were seen shouting at customers and flipping off people inside the store. It then became the gathering spot for people wearing pro-Trump clothing who taunted marchers celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day.
Some residents have called for Top That to be shut down given its disregard for the public health order that calls for people to wear masks inside, though no local or state agency has taken the lead on any enforcement.
According to records with the city of Durango, the city will consider next week enacting a new ordinance that allows it to carry out enforcement measures against businesses that don’t abide by the face-covering requirement.
Co-owner Elissa Beckstead said the yogurt shop has been subject to months of harassment.
The store has been egged three times, people have put stickers on the window encouraging people to boycott the business and someone tried to steal a flag. And Beckstead said people are posting fake negative reviews online.
“I am just highly disappointed in Durango,” she said.
Beckstead said she also believes the store is being targeted by the city of Durango.
Earlier this week, the city’s code enforcement department issued Top That a notice of violation for having too many signs on its front windows.
Steve Barkley, the city’s code enforcement officer, said signs can cover only 25% of a window. If the shop doesn’t comply, it faces a second warning and then a possible court summons.
Barkley said the notice of violation was complaint-driven, though he didn’t know the source of the complaint.
Beckstead said the signs are not coming down, and the store will not require face coverings, saying it is a matter of individual rights. Bartholomew, too, said masks are a political issue.
Bartholomew, for his part, has been involved in several altercations in recent weeks.
In August, a 23-year-old woman is accused of punching Bartholomew in the face after the woman took issue with people not wearing face coverings at O’Reilly Auto Parts.
The woman, who was ticketed for disorderly conduct, said Bartholomew told her to “choke yourself with your mask.”
Bartholomew has also put up signs at the store that read, “Kyle Rittenhouse is a HERO,” referring to the 17-year-old accused of shooting and killing three protesters in Wisconsin, and “White Lives Matter.”
And, videos of Bartholomew confronting people involved with the local Black Lives Matter movement have been widely circulated on social media in recent days.
In one video, Bartholomew is seen idling in his truck at 12th Street and Main Avenue, adjacent to the Black Lives Matter memorial on the edge of Buckley Park, yelling “F*** Black Lives Matter.”
Bartholomew maintains his actions are a reaction to months of being targeted and harassed, and the videos show only one side of the story.
“It’s disgusting the way we’ve been treated,” he said. “I’m not the type to back down.”
Bartholomew and Beckstead were unsure of how to de-escalate the situation, other than to say that both sides need to start showing respect for the other and find common ground.
In the meantime, the yogurt shop turned political lightning rod will continue on, Beckstead said.
“I know we lost some customers,” Beckstead said. “But we’ve gained a lot from our neighboring cities like Farmington and Cortez and everywhere else.”