Portland businesses rally around victim of panhandler attack

Posted Nov. 21, 2013, at 4:29 p.m.
Jason Parent, manager of Harmon's & Barton's on Congress Street, donated flowers to Milo Lewis this week.
Kathleen Pierce | BDN
Jason Parent, manager of Harmon's & Barton's on Congress Street, donated flowers to Milo Lewis this week. Buy Photo
Brad McCurtain, owner of Others! Fair Trade Coffee in Portland, has stepped up to help Milo Lewis this week.
Kathleen Pierce | BDN
Brad McCurtain, owner of Others! Fair Trade Coffee in Portland, has stepped up to help Milo Lewis this week. Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — Days after Elvis Costello’s production manager Milo Lewis was badly beaten by a panhandler near Congress Square, the downtown business community is rallying around the victim, who is recuperating at Maine Medical Center.

“We are doing what we can to let people know this is a caring community,” said Brad McCurtain, board president of Portland’s Downtown District.

McCurtain, who owns Others! Fair Trade Coffee in Monument Square, tapped nearby hotels and restaurants to donate meals and lodging to Lewis and his family this week.

“We can’t help what happened, but we can help what we do about it,” he said.

Lewis, 59, of the United Kingdom, stepped out for a walk Monday before Costello’s concert at the State Theatre and never returned.

According to Portland police, Richard Sneddon, a 45-year-old homeless man, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault for attacking Lewis, who refused to give Sneddon money.

Thursday afternoon, Lewis was still in the hospital as Costello’s tour moved on to Connecticut for its next appearance. Hospital officials wouldn’t release any information Thursday about Lewis’ condition. A woman in his hospital room who appeared to be a family member said Lewis was not talking to the press.

As news of the attack traveled down Congress Street, business owners, who say they are horrified by the event, are doing what they can to make the out-of-towner’s view of the Port City less dark.

From the upscale David’s Restaurant to Harmon’s & Barton’s flowers to the deluxe Portland Harbor Hotel, merchants did not hesitate. Florist Jason Parent pulled together a pro-bono bouquet of orchids, roses and seasonal flowers for Lewis’ hospital room on the spot. “It was a no-brainer,” he said.

The manager of Harmon’s & Barton’s, steps away from where the assault occurred, said both he and his employees are on edge this week. “I’m a smoker, so I go outside two or three times a day and get approached for change,” he said. “I never, never thought someone was going to hit me.”

Working on Congress Street for 10 years, he considered being badgered for money or cigarettes “just a Portland thing.”

Since Monday’s incident, his view has changed. “Now I make sure someone knows when I’m going out for a break,” said Parent, who oversees many women who walk to and from work. They too are wary. “We sent an employee home in a flower delivery van last night,” he said.

At David’s Restaurant in Monument Square, where a filet mignon is $28, complimentary dinner entrees await Lewis and his wife.

General manager Kim Smith said a member of her staff was at the concert on Monday and the attack has been the topic of conversation this week.

“People come here from all over, we don’t want this to be their impression of Portland,” said Smith. “A lot of our staff walks, it could have been anyone of them.”

Likewise, McCurtain, who has visited Lewis every night in the hospital, has extended free coffee and pastries at Others! and hopes the visitor can partake in cultural events this weekend.

“You read about something like this and it colors you. You think, ‘Is this a safe city?’ People remember that,” said McCurtain, who recalled an incident a few years ago near his cafe when a Portland resident was attacked and killed by a passerby and he never did anything.

This time is different.

“It’s the caring people that makes it a great community … We can show that by actions more than words.”

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