Thursday, June 04, 2020

‘Everything Is Gone’: Looting Strikes a Second Blow to Reeling Businesses in Minority Neighborhoods

Along Philadelphia’s 52nd Street corridor, mom-and-pop stores suffered major damage. Many had been gearing up for revival after weeks of coronavirus shutdowns, and some now face the prospect of months before reopening, if ever.

By Scott Calvert and Ruth Simon. Excerpts
"The killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody last week has set off a wave of protests in cities from New York to Los Angeles. Mostly peaceful demonstrations by thousands of people against police abuses are taking place in the daytime. Many protesters have dispersed after recently imposed curfews.

After dark, some people have wrecked and looted businesses, straining an already fragile U.S. economy. Vandalism and theft at many large retailers in high-end business districts and at stores ranging from Apple Inc. to Walmart Inc. are delaying efforts to restart an economy that lost 40 million jobs to the Covid-19 pandemic. The damage to small businesses could be more devastating, potentially permanently closing doors.

The pain is more pronounced in America’s black communities. African-Americans were disproportionately sickened or killed by the new coronavirus. And black people and Latinos were more likely to lose their jobs than white workers as the economy shrank in March and April.
Small businesses, especially minority-owned ones, typically have little savings and very often don’t have multiple locations to help blunt the ravages of the pandemic and the looting. Forty-six percent of black-owned businesses were profitable at the end of 2017 compared with 55% of white-owned firms, according to a report released in 2019 by the regional Federal Reserve Banks.

They often aren’t insured against riots and other man-made disasters and have little in the way of financial reserves, said Daniel Aldrich, director of the Security and Resilience Studies Program at Northeastern University. The pandemic only makes matters worse, he said, because sales are already down and when life will return to normal remains so unclear. “For these small businesses, it’s a triple storm,” he said.

In Philadelphia, small businesses are the mainstay of 52nd Street, making up roughly 90% of the 200 or so businesses on the corridor, according to the Enterprise Center, a nonprofit that provides technical assistance and capital to local businesses. The area is home to small variety stores, takeout restaurants, beauty salons and other mom-and-pop operations, most owned and operated by African-Americans and immigrants. It also houses 27 sidewalk kiosks, six of which were destroyed during the unrest. The corridor had stabilized by midday Monday and has remained calm since then."

"Efforts to revitalize 52nd Street seemed to be paying off in recent years, said Sylvie Gallier Howard, Philadelphia’s acting commerce director. Storefront vacancies had declined and the mix of businesses, which cater largely to lower-income African-American residents, was improving, she said. Then came the pandemic, and now widespread destruction."

"Masum Siddiquee watched helplessly from his home in a nearby town as surveillance cameras captured looters bursting into his shop around 2:30 a.m. He said he has operated MN Fashion and Jewelry for 20 years, selling cellphones, jewelry and videogames.

Mr. Siddiquee, who is originally from Bangladesh, said his wife told him, “It’s OK, don’t get down, don’t get stressed, just let them go.”

By the time he arrived an hour later, thieves had made off with about $200,000 worth of goods, he said, and smashed glass cases in the small storefront."

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