How Philly small business owners are responding to property damage — and the protests that preceded them - Technical.ly Philly

Growth

Jun. 5, 2020 3:46 pm

How Philly small business owners are responding to property damage — and the protests that preceded them

"We're really dealing with this pandemic of COVID and this pandemic of racism, and it's been this perfect storm of how everything manifested this week, and I understand the anger — and I am angry, too."
The Enterprise Center’s post-protest 52nd Street cleanup on June 1, 2020.

The Enterprise Center's post-protest 52nd Street cleanup on June 1, 2020.

(Photo via https://www.facebook.com/TECCDC/)

As protests against police brutality continue after the May 25 killing of George Floyd, Philadelphia businesses of different sizes and neighborhoods are still working to rebuild after instances of looting and property damage over the weekend.

While some business owners may be supportive of protesting, looting can draw up different feelings. Here’s how a handful of them have responded this week.

Philadelphia sportswear company UBIQ’s flagship Walnut Street store was ransacked Saturday night. In a poignant statement, company business analyst Justin Lee used the moment to emphasize how disgusted he is with the racist system that ultimately led to Floyd’s death.

Lee was on Walnut Street near UBIQ Saturday night when the store his father founded 18 years ago was looted, and reminded the boutique’s fans that while inventory can be replaced, “a stolen human life can never be given back.”

He also posted a message on his personal Instagram page: “OUTSIDE of the realities of race and poverty, it fucking sucked watching it happen. A place I practically grew up with gutted in 30 minutes. It shook me and tore me up inside.”

And yet, he wrote, “if we didn’t have systemic racism that silenced black people, that made riots the voice of their anger, this would never have happened.”

Blocks away from UBIQ, local athletic footwear chain Philadelphia Runner’s Center City store was looted Saturday night, and it responded on Instagram by using its National Runner’s Day post to discuss how it will “fight against racism and promote inclusivity in the running community.”

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In years past, we’ve celebrated Global Running Day with a run to Rita’s (not pictured) and a message on how running brings everyone together. Running does have the ability to transcend economic, social, and racial lines and to bring people together but there is a deep divide that we have failed to acknowledge and address. It’s easy to pretend that we all lace up our sneakers and head out for a run in the same way, that all runners are equal, and that we share the same ground. But running is not immune from racism. Running is about movement. Our actions have power and we must use that power to promote inclusivity and openness for people of color in the running community. We have the responsibility to our community, to our city, to our country, and beyond to acknowledge and address race and inequality in all aspects of daily life including running. How do we do that? Last Friday we announced the reopening of our stores on Friday, June 5th. The next day our Center City store was vandalized and will not be able to reopen for some time. The damage done to our property can be fixed and does not compare to the hate, discrimination, and unfair treatment experienced by people of color in our country and around the world every day. As a business in running, we pledge to look in the mirror and commit to having tough conversations about race and racism in running with empathy and respect. As we reopen our doors, we will continue to work on ways to use our voice, our platform, and our resources to fight against racism and promote inclusivity in the running community. Ultimately, our actions will speak louder than words. We look forward to seeing you in our stores again and to welcoming all of the new runners and walkers to our growing community. Our online appointment calendar for University City, Glen Mills, and Manayunk is up and running. Thank you for your continued support and for shopping locally with us!

A post shared by Philadelphia Runner (@phillyrun) on

In a Monday Facebook Live panel with community organization Man Up PHL, Marsh + Mane owner Jenea Robinson described the complex feelings she has as a Black woman entrepreneur during this moment of social unrest.

“As a business owner with a storefront in an area that has seen violence and and destruction toward business, who feels all of this, no, I don’t want my store to be destroyed,” she said about her Society Hill shop. “But I get it as well.”

In addition to pledging support for “equality and equity for all,” Saxbys founder and CEO Nick Bayer reflected on Instagram by admitting how white privilege has given him an edge that non-white people don’t have.

“I never realized that besides health, the greatest privilege I was given when born was to be white and male,” he wrote.

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I never realized that besides health, the greatest privilege I was given when born was to be white and male.  I’m convinced that led to preferential treatment in all aspects in my life from sports to school to interactions with authorities.  I literally had nothing to do with the creation of my gender or skin color but have undoubtedly benefited from both when so many others sadly didn’t have the same fortune. My upbringing was a tale of two worlds.  Raised in a neighborhood where my skin color put me in the minority, it didn’t become clear to me that inequality and inequity had been right under my nose until I eventually matriculated to a private high school and Ivy League university where I was surrounded by people who looked like me. When I decided to start Saxbys, I didn’t do it because I dreamed of coffee and lattes.  Rather, I created Saxbys because I felt strongly that in order to utilize my privilege for the good of others, I could create a business predicated on equality and equity.  By treating ALL people with dignity and respect, providing opportunity and education, we could help break down the walls that have kept generations of people out unfairly based on attributes they were given at birth. I’m proud that we’ve built our company to 900 team members devoutly committed to our Mission to “Make Life Better.” We are over 70% female and/or people of color. We treat ourselves, each other and our communities with unconditional respect.  With every interaction, we prove that people that look different from one another can do great things together – that’s what I dreamed of building 15 years years ago.  Our work is clearly far from over. I will not stand idle and let the racism and hate of some destroy the commitment to love, dignity and equality we have worked so hard to build.  It is easy to throw our hands up and quit.  But no, we will instead regroup, stay committed to being a community serving our community and continue to use Saxbys as a vehicle for good.  Consider me ALL IN on the fight for equality and equity for all.  Let’s spread the word about being good to one another, but far more importantly, let’s show it through our actions.

A post shared by Nick Bayer (@nickbayer6) on

Brian Nadav is the owner of Center City sportswear retailer Lapstone & Hammer, the boutique arm of the local City Blue chain of footwear stores. He was helping his father, an immigrant, clean up a looted City Blue in North Philadelphia on Sunday when a second wave of looters came to take more things.

While retail stores were closed due to COVID-19 before looting, City Blue had still been paying its employees.

“That’s the devastating thing that hits home for somebody that came from nothing and built a business only to watch it get torn down,” Nadav told NBC10. “But, we’re really dealing with this pandemic of COVID and this pandemic of racism, and it’s been this perfect storm of how everything manifested this week, and I understand the anger — and I am angry, too.”

He went on to say there is a distinction between protesting and looting, though.

Along with other commercial corridors around the city, on West Philadelphia’s 52nd Street, a predominantly Black community was left to pick up the pieces of destroyed storefronts on Monday. The Enterprise Center led a coordinated cleanup, and the business incubator’s director of community development, Jesse Blitzstein, said it’s also pushing to help local small businesses that were affected by taking donations and connecting owners with construction contractors to help “rebuild on affected commercial corridors all over the city.”

“52nd Street is a main focus of our community development efforts and was hit hard by what happened Sunday evening,” Blitzstein told Technical.ly. “We helped organize a major cleanup Monday morning. We had hundreds of community members come out. The rest of the week we’ve been working to assess the damage done to actual businesses and properties and attempting to locate and communicate with biz owners affected. We’re just out there.”

Blitzstein said an outpouring of community support in donations led to the creation of a fund for 52nd Street businesses affected by looting or property damage, as well as corridor beautification efforts. Volunteers with specialties in construction or insurance have also made offers to support The Enterprise Center.

The Merchants Fund has also established the Merchant Relief Fund to support affected small businesses. Resources we’ve seen elsewhere include RebuildBlackBusinesses.com, which aims to be a database for collecting support, and D.C.’s Small Business Resilience Fund, through which Morning Consult and the Washington Area Community Investment Fund aim to raise $1 million.

We’ve also seen some calls to action from within the tech community to get involved:

What other resources are you seeing? Email us to have them added: philly@technical.ly.

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