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Crowds at George Floyd memorial take knee with his brother
04:08 - Source: CNN
New York CNN Business  — 

As protests over the death of George Floyd erupt across the nation, small businesses that have struggled for months because of the coronavirus pandemic are facing a new threat to their survival.

Shop owners say their stores have suffered damage such as broken windows and that merchandise has been looted. That’s after months of keeping doors closed or operating at limited capacity. The problems could set back their recovery significantly, they say, or even make it impossible.

Floyd, 46, died one week ago after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck. Floyd, who was black, was unarmed and pleading for his life before he stopped breathing. Many of the protests have been peaceful, but some became chaotic: About 4,000 people have been arrested across the country since Tuesday, according to CNN’s tally from officials nationwide.

Flames rise from a liquor store near the Third Police Precinct on May 28, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during a protest over the death of George Floyd.

“I’m dealing with such a double whammy as a business owner,” said Beth Aberg, owner of Random Harvest Home, a home furnishings chain with three locations that were mostly shut down for more than two months. “I have been doing everything I know how to finally reopen the stores safely for everyone, but now I face an entirely new situation,” she said.

She has incurred new costs as a result. At her store in Washington DC’s Georgetown neighborhood, “I paid $2,000 to get someone to put plywood boards in front of my store because there’s been a lot of looting and violence,” she said.

She added, “This was clear price gouging for the service, but I had no choice.”

In Seattle, there were at least 61 businesses and properties damaged on Friday evening, according to James Sido, a spokesperson for the Downtown Seattle Association, a business advocacy group.

“This damage (and in some cases looting) took place as some retailers were preparing to resume a level of operations in accordance with the Governor’s phased re-opening,” Sido said. “Businesses that we closed for months were days away from restarting, now they’re faced with some measure of rebuild.”

Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association, said in a statement that “the restaurants that were vandalized last night had recently re-opened,” adding that the damage has “created more obstacles to our recovery.”

The last straw

For many small businesses, damage from the protests could be the final blow.

Nug, a cannabis retailer in California, said all of its locations were affected.

“Every single facility was hit; every single one of them,” John Oram, president and co-founder, said. “It’s hundreds of jobs lost; real property that’s just been completely damaged. I’m just beside myself.”

Nug’s stores were left with broken windows, stolen plants and damaged manufacturing equipment, he said.

Oram estimated the damage and losses to be in the multimillion-dollar range. “It’s enough to sink the company,” he said. “There’s no question about it.” The devastation, he added, is compounded by broader challenges within the cannabis industry, where state-legal operators have difficulty accessing banking, loans and resources because the plant remains federally illegal.

Others say they may be forced to pack up and leave.

Greg Milefsky, owner of Balance Bicycle in Richmond, Virginia, said he might have to move his shop because of looting.

Balance Bicycle, a retailer in Richmond, Virginia seen here on June 1, 2020, suffered damage during the protests.

Milefsky went to his store Saturday night after receiving an alert that the alarm had gone off in the shop.

“I climbed in through the broken glass window. I stood in the middle of the shop as looters were still in it. I witnessed people pulling things down and running out,” he said. “I couldn’t do anything. I took my server and left the shop.”

Every bike in the store was taken. “I have no inventory left.” He said looters also took about $2,000 in cash.

He launched a GoFundMe campaign on Monday, which has raised more $9,000 out of a target of $15,000. ” I didn’t want to do this … I do want to make clear to my donors that I can’t reopen in the city if tensions remain this high. So I am looking at maybe moving the shop to a different location, maybe a different part of the city, or the surrounding town.”

‘This cause means a lot to us’

A volunteer sweeps up broken glass behind a shattered store glass door, Sunday, May 31, 2020, in Los Angeles, following a night of unrest and protests.

Many business owners have expressed solidarity with the protesters, even as they try to make sense of their own financial loss.

Safia Munye, a Somali immigrant, fulfilled a lifelong dream when she opened Mama Safia’s Kitchen in Minneapolis about a year and a half ago. The restaurant burned down over the weekend.

“All is destroyed,” Munye told CNN Business. “Nothing is there.”

On Thursday night, Munye’s daughter Saida Hassan and other members of her family were boarding up the restaurant with plywood as the building next door caught fire. They had to leave, and weren’t able to survey the damage until Friday night. When she was finally able to get to the restaurant, Hassan was horrified by the scene:

“It was a hot mess,” she said. In addition to Mama Safia’s, nearby buildings and cars had burned down. “It was so horrific,” she said. “I was angry, I was upset.”

Hassan wasn’t angry at the protesters, however. In fact, after she saw what had happened, she joined them — both in order to help prevent further damage to other businesses, and in solidarity.

“This cause means a lot to us,” said Hassan, adding that most of the demonstrators were peaceful, and that some had helped her board up the store on Thursday night.

Munye stopped making insurance payments during the pandemic because she couldn’t afford them. The restaurant has been able to raise nearly $150,000 through a crowdfunding campaign, so she thinks she will be able to reopen the business.

Derrick Hayes, owner and CEO of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks in Atlanta, learned from a news report that four windows of his restaurant had been broken. “It was shocking to me,” he told CNN Business. “I really worked my tail off to get here.”

Still, Hayes, who is black, stands with the protesters. “We want justice,” he said.

He has insurance, and hopes to be able to reopen the restaurant soon. But Hayes is concerned about other black business owners who don’t have insurance.

“We’re just coming through Covid-19. There’s a lot of people that’s struggling in this bad situation,” he said. “We’re battling so much stuff at one time,” he added.

— CNN Business’s Nathaniel Meyersohn and Alicia Wallace contributed to this report.