Kevin Lundsten is guitar-shop owner by day and a neighborhood watchman by night.
Every day for about two weeks, he’s closed down Affordable Guitars, grabbed his paint can, and made the nightly journey along Main Street East in Sumner looking for and painting over the markings of vandals.
“It’s gotten out of control,” Lundsten said of tagging that’s started to spread all over town. “It’s total vandalism. It’s unbelievable.”
Lundsten has owned Affordable Guitars for 19 years. He’s had his current location just past Valley Avenue East since 2002. Before that, he was down the street.
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“I’m a fixture of this community whether they like it or not,” he quipped.
Before, he says, graffiti was a minor problem that would pop up occasionally.
Now he says it’s a daily occurrence, and his work erasing the evidence of vandalism can’t keep up with the culprit or culprits who continue tagging the same spots.
Sumner Police Chief Brad Moericke told The News Tribune that he’s unaware of any recent uptick in tagging. He said the last recurring problem was about four or five months ago.
If tagging becomes an ongoing problem, he said, property owners should contact police right away.
“We do take it seriously,” Moericke said. “There’s no call too small. We respond to everything.”
Lundsten said one building was hit at least three times last week alone.
The problem runs the length of Main Street, he said, from the entrance to downtown all the way past Valley Avenue near the Sumner Motor Inn.
Last week, graffiti could be seen on vacant buildings, Lundsten’s guitar business, an attorney’s office, the funeral home next door to his shop and the L.A. Tan salon in a commercial building that shares a parking lot with Fred Meyer.
Lundsten and about five others have been walking up and down Main Street every morning and night painting over the marks.
Sometimes, their work is met with honks and cheers from passers-by who are just as sick of the vandalism, he said.
Lundsten and others say they’ve seen “punk kids” hanging around where the tagging is happening, suggesting they’re to blame. Some local business owners have captured pictures and footage of the culprits, he added.
“It’s the kids who have nothing to do,” he said. “The city ignores it like it’s not a problem.”
Lundsten said he spent $100 last week alone on supplies to clean up the mess.
“I’ve got paint all over me,” he said, “trying to keep the neighborhood looking good.”
Lundsten said the police and city officials need to do more to help.
“This has got to stop,” he said.
Aubry Vega, a Tacoma resident, said she’s been managing the L.A. Tan salon across the street from the guitar shop since February.
The tagging on her building started with small scribbles on the windows of the corner unit.
“Nothing too serious at first,” Vega said.
But the problems have recently escalated. Staff and customers have complained about young kids loitering, leaving beer cans behind and vomiting in the parking lot.
She isn’t sure if those problems are related to the tagging incidents, but she believes making more activities available for teens will solve those and other problems around town.
She acknowledged that programs at the new Sumner YMCA, set to open later this summer, will probably help curb vandalism.
“I feel like Sumner police could be doing a lot more,” she added.
Vega said she’s tried requesting increased patrols in the area. But she’s had trouble reaching anyone at the police department and her voice mails haven’t resulted in any changes, she said.
Moericke, the police chief, said the city’s school resource officer maintains a book with pictures of graffiti. The officer works with Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, Puyallup police and local schools to find patterns and identify suspects.
The city’s code enforcement officer also works with victims of vandalism to get graffiti removed as quickly as possible, to avoid inviting more tagging.
Moericke said that businesses or residents could also take preventive measures to avoid tagging, such as improving illumination around buildings.
Lundsten voiced his concerns to the Sumner City Council on Monday night. Mayor Dave Enslow suggested that Moericke set up a meeting with the guitar-shop owner to discuss the issue.
After the council meeting, Lundsten seemed cautiously optimistic about the city’s response.
“The proof will be in the pudding,” he told The News Tribune on Tuesday. “There was more graffiti today.”
Sumner is not the only Western Washington city where citizens are taking on the taggers this summer.
The Peninsula Daily News reported this week that a 60-year old retiree has become “one-man graffiti removal task force” in Port Angeles and has painted over about 70 tags since May.
“It’s not a war,” said Richard Schneider, a retired National Park Service Employee. “It’s housekeeping.”
Back in Sumner, Lundsten said he hopes the “punks” responsible for the tagging get the hint that they’re not going to win. Lundsten said he has deeper pockets, and they should “stop spending their allowance money” on a losing battle.
“I’m not scared of them,” he said.