MINNEAPOLIS — Brandy Moore likened the charred remains of her south Minneapolis clothing store and recording studio to the pangs for equality that minorities here feel.
Smoke continued to waft in the air 24 hours after people protesting the death of George Floyd lit fire to Moore’s storefront, and several others along Lake Street.
“My business burned down two days ago, you see the flames? It’s still going,” Moore, 41, said Sunday. “That flame down in people’s soul? It’s still going. They want justice.”
She is among dozens of Minneapolis and St. Paul business owners, small and large, trying to rebuild after fiery riots and demonstrations in the Twin Cities on Thursday and Friday. Her company, “Levels,” which also has a St. Paul location that remains undamaged, was Moore’s “baby.”
Moore, a black woman, said she started the business from the trunk of her car once she left a job with Minneapolis Public Schools in 2011 to pursue her passion for fashion and music.
It had been opened for five years before people broke in Friday and started a fire that destroyed her business and several adjacent stores. When she was alerted to the break-in, Moore went to Lake Street and watched nearly a decade of work collapse into the concrete.
“I’m hurt that I lost this. But … I can’t cry right now,” she said. “I can’t go home and cry and be hurt because I lost businesses. George Floyd lost his life. He’ll never be here again.”
She’s confident she can recover but isn’t sure if she can rebuild at the same location — in the heart of a diverse southside neighborhood. A GoFundMe has been started to help with those expenses. Other small businesses face similar uncertainty, but several fundraisers have been started to help support Minneapolis’ littlest companies.
As looters ransacked his St. Paul store, this business owner hid in the bathroom and whispered to 911
In St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, just blocks from where Moore’s second Levels location was protected by armed men standing on its porch, one business owner said he hid in his office as people ransacked, urinated in and damaged the building.
Jim Segal closed Ax-Man Surplus earlier than normal Thursday afternoon because daylight looting took hold at the nearby intersection of University and Snelling avenues. After sending customers and employees home and locking the front door, Segal said he continued to work in the office of the six-decade-old company. Then he heard multiple glass windows break.
“Luckily, I have a steel door because they were trying to enter the office,” said Segal, who bought the surplus store about 20 years ago. “I don’t think they knew anybody was in there, but I basically barricaded myself within a bathroom inside the office.”
He felt as if he were in a movie, the St. Paul native said. As display cases were shattered and electronics taken from inside his store, he whispered to 911 dispatch asking for help.
“Police said, ‘Don’t even bother boarding up your store,'” Segal said Saturday. “‘There’s a 50/50 chance it won’t be here tomorrow.”
About 6:30 p.m. Thursday, he returned to the St. Paul Ax-Man location, one of three in the metro, in an unsuccessful effort to shoo away people running in and out of his store.
A company agreed to board up his windows, Segal said, but left quickly after arriving, not wanting to work amongst the crowd. He tried to get a license plate of someone stealing, but others tried to take his phone so he retreated to his car.
Segal sat in his vehicle for hours as rioters peed in his store and took items ranging from knick-knacks and DVDs to a snow-blower. He said coronavirus concerns forced him to close his business for the better part of two months. They’d been reopened a little more than a week when the building was ransacked.
“I don’t recall ever being in a situation where I was that panicked. I was petrified, actually,” he said. Ax-Man won’t reopen for at least a week or two, and Segal fears it may close permanently because of the lack of sales during the spring. That would mean a loss of livelihood for him and about 10 employees.
He sympathizes with those upset about Floyd’s death in police custody on Memorial Day, describing the video of Minneapolis police officers’ actions “horrific.”
“This is just stuff, no comparison (to a person dying),” said Segal, a white man. “But what I’m disappointed about is the lack of leadership in the government — Mayor (Melvin) Carter, Mayor (Jacob) Frey, Gov. (Tim) Walz — to just allow lawlessness.
“Indefensible what happened to Mr. Floyd, but this doesn’t make it better. And I don’t know what does.”
Insurance helps small business owners, but a full recovery is ‘a lot more complicated’
While Moore and Segal both said they are insured, they don’t believe insurance alone will enough to replace everything they’ve lost. People typically see business owner and think “wealth,” Segal said.
“That’s not true for me,” he said. “I’m the last one to get paid.”
Understanding insurance policies can be difficult for many small business owners, said Allison Sharkey, executive director of the Lake Street Council, which supports local companies. Lake Street has always been an area for Minneapolis’s immigrant entrepreneurs to start businesses, she said, and many of those folks may not be familiar with aid systems or insurance proceedings.
“There’s a lot of detail to go through in your contract that most people don’t really understand until a situation like this happens,” Sharkey said. “It’s a lot more complicated than just paying a $500 deductible and thinking the rest is going to be covered.”
Minority business owners may not have the credit or assets to withstand closures as long as white business owners with more resources, she said. The council, and other metro business associations like it, try to fill that gap and provide guidance, but insurance claims won’t stop some businesses from completely fading away.
For Moore, she’s frustrated when people bring up the fact she’s insured because it ignores the work she put into the building and the items she won’t get back.
“When you get it out the mud — meaning when you get it on your own, no handouts … someone just handing you money doesn’t equate,” she said. “It’s deeper than that.”
Financial support is coming for Twin Cities small businesses left in rubble amid George Floyd protests
When Segal returned to his business Friday, he found a person who lived nearby sweeping glass from the sidewalk, which raised his spirits.
Monetary support has begun, too. It’s especially vital, small business advocates say, because many companies were already running out of money because of closures due to COVID-19.
The Lake Street Council has received over $1.5 million to help support the hundreds of businesses that line the heavily damaged area. Sharkey said companies owned by people of color and immigrants have been especially affected by the days of unrest. Several “big, beautiful” buildings on the southside have been replaced by rubble, which will be eventually replaced by vacant lots.
“($1.5 million) sounds like a big number, but we’re gonna need a lot more government and nonprofit support,” Sharkey said. “We have a long road ahead of us.”
She said her organization had already begun to save money to distribute to companies dealing with financial contractions from the coronavirus, but it’s not been shifted to riot recovery. The council will request an aid package from the state, but Sharkey thinks they’ll need federal dollars as well.
“We’re headed toward a recession,” she said. “We’re really going to have to create a long-term strategy along with stakeholders, business owners, property owners business groups, elected officials.”
Donations to that fund can be made here.
Fundraising has begun in Segal’s area, as well. The Hamline Midway Coalition has received more than $75,000 to help aid small businesses in their recovery from property damage and lost sales.
Kate Mudge, the coalition’s director, said the organization has been raising funds to help small and minority business owners worried about gentrification and corporatization coming with the new U.S. soccer stadium built nearby.
“We already have been dealing with a pandemic, we’ve been dealing with some long-term issues in our community, and this is the icing on the cake. We hope that this
is gonna bring new people to Midway, new businesses,” she said. “We’ve dealt with worse.”
Donations to the Midway fund can be made at here.
Despite the uncertainty, the organizations are confident many businesses will survive if community support keeps up.
“I’m not blaming people, you can’t judge anybody’s pain or anger. Everyone acts and reacts to things in different ways,” Moore said. “I have a black-owned business, it was burned down and we were protesting, for a black man’s life that was taken. So, I was just a little confused on where we’re going with this. But, at the end of the day, everything is about sacrifices.”