FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 18: Workers board up a business as they try to protect it from some violent clashes between police and people protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. / Joe Raedle Getty Images
FERGUSON, Mo. - The Feel Beauty Supply store on West Florissant Avenue, which has been the site of most of the protests here since a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager, reopened Friday for the first time in a week, its front window still covered with plywood.
The store was hit by looters Aug. 15, a group of about 18 males and females broke through the plate glass window and grabbed expensive hair extensions, a jewelry display and even packages of eyelashes during a spree that took maybe three minutes, says manager Tanya Littleton.
She says the store lost about $10,000 in business while it was closed, and that no decision has been made by the owners about whether they'll stay. "We don't know yet," she said. "It depends on what happens going forward. Is it going to get better, or is it going to get worse?"
That's a pivotal question here as businesses begin struggling back to their feet after almost two weeks of sometimes violent unrest. About 100 businesses "suffered some sort of damage or loss" from the upheaval, says Rebecca Zoll, president and CEO of North County Inc., an economic and community development advisory organization. Most of those were in Ferguson and adjoining Dellwood, with a few in nearby Jennings, she says.
"I don' t know that we really know what the economic impact will be (from the rioting and protests)," she says. "I don't think we can measure the long-term impact yet because numbers are still coming in."
Even businesses that weren't directly damaged by rioters or looting have seen their receipts drop precipitously over the past two weeks as police closed streets, protesters clogged the avenues and many customers stayed away. Christopher Deeken, a co-owner of NAPA Auto Care Center on West Florissant, says his business is off by about 35%. "People are calling and asking, 'Is it safe?' " he says.
But as "We (heart) Ferguson" signs pop up along streets across the city, the state, local churches, private businesses and others are working to make sure that Ferguson recovers. A fund started this week to provide short-term grants to small businesses and to schools hammered by the unrest here has already grown to nearly $100,000.
"I have been so impressed with the resilience and the determination of the business owners to stay in Ferguson and rebuild," says Kathy Osborn, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Business Council, which is one of several groups administering the Reinvest North County Fund.
That money is being used to meet the short-term needs of small businesses and the three school districts in the area, Osborn says. One of them opened last week; one opened last week then closed again when a new round of violence flared; the third plans to open on Monday.
"We'll be trying to do whatever the superintendent needs," Osborn says. For the Normandy School District, that means helping to pay for security at afternoon and evening football games.
Small businesses can apply for modest grants to help rebuild their business, or seek help from attorneys and accountants to help with things like insurance paperwork, Osborn says.
A burned QuikTrip store has come to symbolize the unrest in Ferguson, but most of the damage here is not that bad, says Denny Coleman, CEO of St. Louis Economic Development Partnership. "Our staff have done a windshield survey of the area that's been impacted," he says. "A little less than 100 companies got some form of vandalism, but it's a huge range, from a window panel kicked in, to the QuikTrip.
"'Most of the damage was relatively minor," he says. "You had some windows kicked in, some doors that were busted open. But from a windshield survey only, the damage is not enormous. Nor is it comprehensive. You drive through the area and you have a store that's been impacted here, and four or five others that are untouched."
Mike Thornbrugh, corporate spokesman for QuikTrip, says no decision has been made yet on whether the store will reopen. "We haven't had the opportunity to do the due process," he says, referring to matters such as insurance adjusters. "Normally, you can do that pretty quickly. Now that it appears - I hope - to be relatively safe, we will expect to get that done."
On Thursday, Zoll's organization along with the state Department of Economic Development, the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership joined forces to create a kind of one-stop shop where businesses can get information and resources via a small-business assistance hotline, Zoll says. That effort aims to help local businesses with longer-term rebuilding needs.
The hotline (314-206-3235; RecoverySTL@stlregionalchamber.com) will provide information regarding financial assistance for damages and loss of sales, and services to assist in insurance claims and other related matters, says Scott Holste, Gov. Jay Nixon's press secretary.
"The coalition will be working on strategies to restore consumer confidence in the area, and promote to St. Louis metro businesses and consumers to buy local in Ferguson and other affected areas in North County," he says.
Antonio Henley, owner of the Prime Time Beauty and Barber Shop on West Florissant Avenue, says his business is down "at least 70%." He says he's lost four hours of business each day as police closed the street ahead of protests. "And the police are out here harassing my customers," Henley says.
He doesn't know what he'll do to recoup lost revenue, but he does not want a loan. "I don't want to go into debt to try to get it back," he says. "I think FEMA should come in and help, and maybe reimburse us small-business owners for the loss of revenue."
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