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Salt Lake fur seller fears Games protests

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Imagine a china plate sitting on a street in Pamplona, Spain, during the running of the bulls. That's how the owners of L'ours Blanc might feel during the 2002 Winter Games.

The downtown shop is the city's lone fur retailer — one of the few spots where you can pick up a mink coat or stole. It's also a regular target of animal-rights activists — a bevy of whom are expected to crowd downtown during the Games.

Even now, every Saturday, come rain or shine, protesters gather at noon around the shop. They are attracting attention to what they say are pitiful conditions of animals raised on fur farms, said Sean Diener, executive director of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition.

During the Olympics, Diener said, UARC expects to recruit the hordes of activists in town to protest an Olympic rodeo to join the fur shop vigil.

With those crowds in mind, the fur shop and at least one other previous mark of animal rights activists are both stepping up security.

From acts of civil disobedience, with activists blocking the store front, to more notorious acts like vandalism at the owner's mink farm three years ago, L'ours Blanc has been targeted — peaceful Saturday protests aside.

"We went around the block with them," said the store's owner, who didn't want his name in print.

Howard Lemcke of the district attorney's office said instances have been reported when cars have pulled alongside the owner and his family. The occupants pump shotguns and then drive away, he said.

During Salt Lake City's Games, protesters will be near L'ours Blanc, as city administrators are expected this week to approve a giant protest area for the activists near 400 West and North Temple.

That's a scant four blocks from L'ours Blanc. And without discussing specifics, the shop owner says his place is beefing up security.

"We are but we're keeping it a secret," he said. "If they know what we're doing it wouldn't be much security."

Similar tactics are being employed by the National Wildlife Research Center Predator Ecology & Behavior Project in Logan.

That facility was firebombed in 1992 and authorities suspected the fire was the work of the Animal Liberation Front, a radical animal rights group that in more recent years has been blamed for vandalism at Salt Lake area fast-food stores.

"I'm not going to get into any specifics, but we are working with the sheriff's office in Cache County for more security awareness," said Teresa Howes, spokeswoman for the Logan facility. "Whether or not there are actually going to be animal rights activists I don't know, but we have had instances in the past."

Assistant Salt Lake City Police Chief Scott Folsom said his department is wary of the activists. Still, he said, it is hard to know where, if anywhere, violent factions might attack. From burger joints to the fur shop, many businesses have been targets previously.

Diener said he anticipates most activists will stick to protesting the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's rodeo, which is part of the Cultural Olympiad.

Other than the rodeo protests and Saturday fur shop vigils, "we don't want to do much else," he said. "We want to keep the focus on the rodeo."

E-MAIL: bsnyder@desnews.com