An Open Letter to Arena’s Inc. by Calvin Eaton

An Open Letter,

Dear Arena’s Inc.

It was with great joy that I made a casual visit to your East End location this past Friday. With vacation time on my side I could finally cross your prolific gift shop and floral boutique off my grew up in Rochester but never visited list. Initially this visit was pleasant and business as usual from a local neighborhood establishment. A friendly greeting from the front desk clerk, my eyes wide and in awe after circling the lower level and gazing at all the gifts, trinkets, and plants in abundance; thinking who would be the best recipient of a well thought out gift from a local staple. It wasn’t until I attempted to venture upstairs that my visit ultimately led to this letter.

Before I could set foot on the top step, I was hastily stopped by a gentleman that approached me from behind friendly yet firmly telling me that before I could wander the second floor, I would have to remove my shoulder bag and set it behind the front counter. I initially gave pause to the request but in place of “making a scene” or seeming difficult quickly agreed to the request with a smile. Had it not been for the sole other patron in the shop, I more than likely would not have given this interaction a second thought. You see this middle aged white woman had also wandered from the first to second floor with not one but two bags on her shoulders. She apparently hadn’t been sequestered to remove her everyday luggage and was allowed to shop uninterrupted and without the same scrutiny as I, a black young black man had received. This scenario on the surface seems rather trivial. What is the big deal you may ask? But after reflecting on the situation and facts from my vantage point for the rest of my visit and into the rest of my day; several issues and unanswered questions remain.

Was I racially profiled? Is the most pressing question that I was left with after exiting your store. This burden in itself is tough enough as a man of color but even more disconcerting facing it after leaving an establishment that is literally down the street and around the corner from where I live, work, and walk daily.

The second question is: Why wasn’t the female customer also asked to remove her bag before she was allowed to the second floor? Did your two staff members miss her by mistake? How could this be since the two of us were the only customers in the store at the time?

Additionally, if this is standard practice and policy why is there no posted signage informing customers about the no bag policy? Why was I treated differently in that moment from another customer?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. Only theories based on anecdotal evidence. However this incident and these thoughts are daily burdens that black and brown residents have the burden of facing as we navigate Rochester spaces and increasingly; East End establishments that are quite literally gentrifying right before our eyes.

I write this letter not to accuse but to take a stand for myself and many others who have encountered similar treatment in Arena’s and other places in Rochester but chose to remain silent. This and many other microaggressions are one of many that happen daily that for the sake of being politically correct, for the sake of niceness, for the sake of turning the other cheek we are culturally forced to give establishments like yours the benefit of the doubt. Our silence leads to unanswered questions, broken egos, and hurt feelings. We vent to our friends. We vent on social media. We vow never to return again. But this silence fosters nothing but more complicity, more status quo, and more allowances for racism to fester and divide our City.

I write this letter openly to share my one experience. To be transparent and let others know that it is ok to speak up. To let you know that my voice matters. My feelings matter and that as a customer and more importantly as a human, I deserve to be treated the same as everyone else. I do not deserve to be treated differently, or thought of differently, because of the color of my skin.

This letter is a letter to foster positive yet difficult conversation on how we as a community both in the East End and at large are treating each other through our daily interactions and in the policies we create and promote in our places of business. I hope that your staff and owners join me in this conversation.



Calvin Eaton

Founder & Executive Director

540WMain Communiversity

Published by Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a non-profit online and community-based organization for accessible education and events that promote justice for all.

23 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Arena’s Inc. by Calvin Eaton

  1. Thank you for being brave enough to write this. I laud your sensitive and questioning phrasing. As a white male, I have had the wind at my back my whole life (AKA white male privilege) and this never been subjected to treatment like this. I agree with calling this behavior out.


    1. You sir are a problem with America. Perhaps YOU have had privilege as a white male but that is so steriotypical and more comments like that only gleam toward more hate, oppression and worse, excuses. Your best recourse would be to understand the issue being written about and then lead by example. The writer of this story is educated, thoughtful and asking for equality and we can all (should) embrace that but not at the tearing down of other classes. Your suggestion would infer that today’s German citizens are responsible for the Holocaust. Wipe the slate clean, treat others as you want to be treated and just do the best you can. I’m sure you are compassionate but please do not be a martyr.


  2. Thank you for being willing to write/post this. Sadly, progress is not made by remaining quiet about such violations, although remaining quiet is the default approach for most of us. I’m so sorry you had to endure what seems to a casual observer to be uneven or even biased treatment.


  3. I sent a message via Messenger to Arenas, asking him to respond to your letter. I hope this kind of response pushes things along. I could say how sorry I am that this occurred, which I am. I could say what a fine letter you wrote, which is true. But I want you to know when shit happens, as it always has, that I got your back with every damn ounce of unearned white privilege that I’ve got.
    And I write pretty good myself and I’m not shy or hesitant about using social media.
    You are doing very important work.


  4. Yes, there needs to be conversations, but more importantly there needs to be actions-not confrontations but clearly addressing the situation. If I had been that woman in Arena’s, I would have gone up to that staff member and said “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know you had a policy not allowing bags on the second floor, here are mine.” And then I would have walked away and continued my shopping hoping that for one brief moment you smiled to yourself seeing this tiny, old white lady quietly confronting racism head on.
    Everyday, we must look around us and try to ensure that all people are being treated with respect.


  5. Calvin – thank you for bringing this policy to our attention. I’m very disappointed to hear about this disturbing policy by a establishment I have held in high esteem in the past. I expected such a well established business like, this to be way above this kind of treatment that is so yesterday !!


  6. You are correct: silence enables. It is up to all of us, regardless of our differences, to openly confront the offense.


  7. Thanks Calvin for addressing this publicly. Many people do not know that blacks face this discrimination to this day! I have been made aware in the last few years and am still astonished. I wonder if the white clerk understood what she was really doing?


  8. Calvin, I am sorry this happened to you. I like what do for our community and the many events you have at 540 West Main Street in the Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood! You are loved! I hope you receive a proper handwritten apology and a floral arrangement from Arenas! Wishing you all the best in 2019 and beyond with Hope, Joy, Comfort, Love and Peace!


  9. I am sorry for the way you were treated in Arena’s, which has been our go-to florist in Rochester for nearly 20 years—which we’ll reconsider in light of this incident. Thank you for sharing your experience. Such behavior needs to be called out, especially in an establishment held in such high regard. Have you received any response from Arena’s?


  10. I was left with after exiting your store. This burden in itself is tough enough as a man of color but even more disconcerting facing it after leaving an establishment that is literally down the street and around the corner from where I live, work, and walk daily.


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