September 17, 2021

Moka Bellaire

The Fashion & Shopping Universe

Twin Cities business owners jolted, prepare again for unrest

7 min read

Matthew Lerner came to East Lake Liquor on Monday morning to find that vandals had broken the glass on the doors. He had prepared for the prospect of some unrest in south Minneapolis as the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin came to a close, but not so soon.

“We were putting together some plans,” said Lerner, the store’s owner. “I thought that we had a couple of weeks left, roughly, before the verdict. Now this happened.”

Business owners are on high alert after unrest sparked by the Brooklyn Center police killing of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop on Sunday. Concerns over security come nearly one year after riots, looting and arson following the death of George Floyd caused at least $500 million in damage to more than 1,500 locations. As Chauvin’s murder trial in Floyd’s death heads toward the finish line, business owners fear more chaos if there’s an acquittal.

Tom Roberts, owner of the Highland Plaza Shopping Center, said he thinks authorities need to be fully deployed to help protect businesses.

“It’s time to lock down the city,” Roberts said.

Rioters last year heavily damaged his shopping center at the corner of East Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue after setting fire to several stores at the mall. Roberts is spending several million dollars to rebuild the complex, which has about half of the stores open.

Overnight security stationed at the mall on Sunday turned away a group of people with crowbars, he said. There are plans to add more fencing and barriers around Highland Plaza, and Roberts suggested he might speed up the process.

“They are just going to destroy the city if we don’t stop it now,” Roberts said. “Otherwise why would anybody want to live there or do business there?”

The 7 Mile Fashion beauty supply store in Brooklyn Park was broken into overnight and merchandise and money were taken, according to the family that runs the store. It was their only local franchise that wasn’t damaged last year during the riots, said Gina Ahn, whose parents own several beauty supply stores around the metro.

“It’s kind of like our worst fears imagined,” said Ahn, who said what happened Sunday night almost felt like a déjà vu of last summer. “It basically happened, what we were preparing for.”

They are still assessing the safety of the Brooklyn Park store to decide if any changes need to be made to its hours of operation, Ahn said.

“We are just upset that there’s an officer-involved shooting in the first place. … Everyone’s on edge,” she said.

Mauro Madrigal usually leaves La Mexicana, his Lake Street grocery store, at 9:30 in the evening. He stayed until 3 in the morning Monday as riots broke out in Brooklyn Center, watching from the parking lot to ensure no one broke in. Madrigal said he plans to come back for the next few nights “until everything settles down.”

“We are very concerned that if [Chauvin] goes free that everything is going to start up again,” Madrigal said.

His store already faced $10,000 in losses — the amount of the insurance deductible — after rioters broke windows and cash registers last spring. Since then he’s put steel bars over the windows. Business has yet to return to normal following the destruction and pandemic. Customers have asked during the trial if he’s worried, “and we say, ‘Yes, we are worried,’ ” Madrigal said. He said the city is not doing enough to protect store owners.

“I think that there could be more police out there so that people can see that police are actually trying to watch over the businesses,” he said.

The unrest prompted Maximo Figueroa to rush to Plaza Mexico, where he owns the jewelry store Joyeria Max, at 1 a.m. Vandals had broken into his shop last spring and he was determined to protect his business at the Lake Street mall.

This time around, he saw some people throwing rocks at the door outside and told them to leave. One tenant’s store was heavily damaged.

“We are scared, we are afraid and insecure,” said Figueroa. “We don’t know how to keep doing business here on Lake Street.”

He said he thinks that even if the city of Minneapolis wants to protect businesses, it will be unable to with fewer police officers.

“I’m going to defend as much as I can,” said Figueroa, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico 35 years ago. Now 55 and without a formal education, he said, “I cannot just go and work someplace else with an excellent salary and benefits. This is what I do for a living. … If they try to burn this building I definitely do not know what else I can do.”

After suffering $800,000 in losses during last year’s riots, Elite Cleaners & Launderers on Minnehaha Avenue moved its dry-cleaning equipment to another location in St. Anthony, though customers can still drop off and pick up their clothes at the south Minneapolis store. Pinky Patel, one of the owners, said neighbors are keeping track of what’s going on.

“Everyone is keeping a close watch,” Patel said. The community has organized groups “so if something happens everyone is prepared.”

Patel has kept up with the Chauvin trial, though it elicits memories of Floyd’s death and the chaos that followed.

“It’s a reminder every day that we are not through from that hell. … It’s like you are reliving that day every day,” she said.

Yohuru Williams, professor of history and founding director of the Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas, said people shouldn’t be shocked at the rioting after Floyd’s death and beyond. He cited civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who called rioting “the language of the unheard” for people who live in unequal conditions and have grown tired of oppressive systems.

“What you are really seeing is frustration boiling over,” he said, referencing race riots in the 1960s and after the Rodney King beating in 1991.

In some ways, riots have become predictable as many deep issues about inequality continue to go unaddressed, Williams said; buildings being boarded up and cities becoming more fortified in anticipation doesn’t help, and in some ways become self-fulfilling prophecies.

“For me, I think this is part of the continued churn,” he said. “I think this is where we are in America 2021.”

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

Nicole Norfleet • 612-710-5367

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