Baltimore Business Owners Speak Up
In the wake of Monday’s riots, the view all along Centre Street and up Charles had changed dramatically. What just a day before had been the thriving cultural heart of the city now looked like an area plagued by blight. Boarded windows, broken glass, and shuttered businesses lined the streets.
A closer look reveals more to the story.
The Scene on the Street
Trinacria, a Baltimore tradition if there ever was one, was badly damaged during the riots. At their recently opened cafe, windows were broken and the cafe was trashed. The plywood panels screwed directly into metal doorframes bore the sign, closed until further notice.
Handwritten notes from community members filled the paper, and the wood around it. We love you. Come back. What can we do to help.
Just down the street, Gallery Grill, a small cafe just across from the Walters, was boarded up with no sign indicating when they would reopen. The owner, Miss Jin, had already closed the shop and left for the day when the rioters came through.
Not Just Stuff
Miss Kim at the Cozy Corner was not so lucky. She had closed shop, but had not yet left when she heard the noises outside. What she saw was a group of young teens causing mischief. She opened her door and tried to shoo them off.
They broke her windows, knocked her down, stole the money from her cash register, took the drinks from her coolers, and threw a newspaper box through the windows.
She counts herself lucky that they didn’t do worse.
But she’s not angry at them. Not anymore.
On Tuesday, she was afraid, still shaking from the experience.
She made eye contact with one of the young men, just before he threw the newspaper box through her window. “Such an angry face! I could not get over that face!”
The young man’s face, his anger, haunted her. She couldn’t sleep, could barely eat. She spent Tuesday at home, frightened and literally shaking from the experience. She didn’t want to leave her house, but on Wednesday, she had to come in to meet her insurance adjuster.
On Wednesday, she found notes and gifts from loyal customers. They came by to say hello, to give hugs, and thank her for being there. “It cheers me up, keeps me going and makes me happy,” Kim said.
As for the kids who looted her business and assaulted her?
“It’s heartbreaking,” Kim said. “What makes a young person so mad inside? What kind of life has he had to be so angry.”
She hasn’t gotten a full response from her insurance on how much of the damage they will cover, but Cozy Corner is open for business. And today, Miss Kim is not angry, or frightened.
Despite still bearing bruises from the assault, she had kind words. “Good people forget to be human. They get caught up in anger. They need love. Nobody cares about them.”
Today, she doesn’t see the anger in the young man’s face. “I see a good looking boy’s face, and I hurt for them.” In the end, she says, “everything will be OK. I wish for peace, and peace of mind.”
More Businesses Victimized
Further down Centre Street on Wednesday, the guys at Midtown BBQ & Brew were out on the street offering free barbeque chicken sandwiches to anyone who wanted one. Despite the broken windows in their shop, despite the loss of business revenue with the curfew in place, they wanted to reach out to their community.
The damage itself at Midtown wasn’t too bad. The owner was inside the shop when the windows were broken out and was able to discourage further damage. But the impact goes beyond some broken glass.
“Curfew is impacting our business at night,” Adrian Snead, General Manager, shared. “We’re looking at $20,000 or more in losses over the next week. Our employees are losing money.”
Midtown is taking steps to help ensure their business stays afloat, and their employees can still get paid. They’ve set up a Go Fund Me campaign to help defray the costs of repairs, and pay wages to their employees, as well as benefit the community where needed.
Right now, until the curfew lifts, the bar is still oven, but last call is at 9pm to allow employees time to close up and get home safely.
Immediately next door to Midtown is Ted’s Musician’s Shop. It’s a quiet, unassuming looking place that might seem out of place in downtown Baltimore, until you remember this is also the home of the Peabody Conservatory, and that Ted’s has been around since 1931.
On Monday, windows were smashed and a group of young kids swarmed in, smashing cases and stealing instruments. Owner Fernando Roman estimates his losses at around $41,000. He is one of the few businesses whose insurance will cover much of the loss. Alvaro, an employee who was in the shop when the rioters came through, says the kids “just smashed and grabbed, they were interested in destroying.” There were 14 youths in the shop, Alvaro counted.
Still, Fernando has no intention of leaving the city.
Up Charles Street
At the corner of Charles and Centre Streets sits a small 7-11. This is a franchisee shop, not owned by corporate. Owner Keyur Patel had been watching what was going on and called his employees to close up, pack away the cigarettes, and lock themselves in the office.
The moment the door of the office locked behind his staff, the windows in the front burst and people swarmed into the shop. Patel watched the whole thing happen on the closed circuit security cameras.
Because this is a franchise, the corporation will cover some of the losses, limiting Patel’s costs to merchandise and other incidentals. Still, it’s upwards of $15,000 in damage and losses that his insurance will not cover.
“The amazing thing,” Patel shared, “a regular customer saw the broken glass and went home, came back and boarded it all up before I could even make it over here.”
The employees in the office? They were all fine, a little shaken, but not harmed. And Patel? He was determined to get back to business as soon as possible. But he hasn’t watched the video footage, “I don’t even want to look at that.”
Continuing up Charles, there’s an entire series of places all boarded up. Annapurna Grocery and Gifts is boarded up and dark. The entrance to Brown’s Arcade building is similarly boarded up. At Lumbini, an Indian restaurant, owner Narayn is not sure what his insurance will cover, or how much help he’ll get in repairing the damage to his storefront.
His shop has minimal damage, just broken glass, but the curfew and lack of downtown visitors is impacting his business. “I’ve lost over 80% of my business,” he shared. “I’ll fix this, I have to, but it’s terrible.”
He pointed just a few doors down at the grocery. “They took everything there. Everything. It’s crazy. There’s not even a candy bar left.”
Narayn is angry, but feels he isn’t free to express his anger. “It feels unsafe,” he said. “This is not American. We are a melting pot. Communities that attack each other, it’s civil war. It’s not right.”
The restaurant is open, struggling to survive with reduced customers. The grocery? Narayn shrugs, “Give it a week, maybe 10 days.”
A Community in Need
In the turmoil and anger over Freddie Gray, it’s easy to lose sight of these seemingly smaller things.
It’s easy to say “it’s just things”, but in truth it’s not.
It’s easy to say, “at least they’re alive,” but that doesn’t help.
If the anger over systemic police brutality is justified, then why is it not acceptable to be angry about the lives, and the livelihoods, of local business owners?
These are not rich, white-dominated corporations. These are small businesses, owned by local individuals, many of them minorities themselves.
If we as a community are happy to stand up and speak out against the brutality of an abusive police force, shouldn’t we also be willing to stand in support of people whose very survival is dependent upon a functioning, healthy, and safe city where people want to be?
…Stay tuned for more in this multi-part series.