Elias Usso got an alert at home around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday when an alarm went off at his small pharmacy near Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue.
Then he watched the live security footage on his phone as looters ransacked the Seward Pharmacy shelves, set a small fire in the back and carted out a safe holding prescription drugs. “I saw the whole thing — it was agonizing,” he said Thursday afternoon as workers mopped up floors drenched from sprinklers and boarded up the shattered store windows. “My biggest concern is that my customers won’t be able to get their prescriptions on time. That’s a nightmare for a pharmacist.”
More than 100 small businesses across Minneapolis were damaged during the protests Wednesday night over the death of George Floyd in police custody, said Allison Sharkey, executive director of the Lake Street Council, a nonprofit business coalition. Most of them were along Lake Street, but some were in other sections of the city, including Uptown and north Minneapolis.
Businesses hunker down
As more looting and vandalism continued Thursday and spread, including to St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, many businesses across the Twin Cities hunkered down for another potentially rough night. Businesses along Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, which were not hit the night before, boarded up windows along with many others around the city.
Target pre-emptively closed 22 stores around the Twin Cities in addition to two on Lake Street that had been damaged the previous night.
After a sleepless night, business owners along Lake Street — many already hurting from the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 — emerged early Thursday and stared at what was left of their shops with quiet disbelief.
Charles Stotts, who has owned Town Talk Diner for four years, looked at his restaurant with gentle eyes and a somber frown. Smoke filled the dining room, and water from the sprinklers flooded the floor and poured onto the street.
“It’s worse than anything I could have ever imagined happening to our little restaurant,” said Stotts, who took part in the peaceful protest Tuesday night. “What did my little building on the side of the road do?”
On Wednesday night, the epicenter of the damage from the rioting was in the area around Lake and Hiawatha, where a Wendy’s and an AutoZone smoldered the next morning. Smoke billowed from other buildings, the burning smell wafting across Lake Street.
Qiu Chen, owner of Twin City Laundromat, stood guard with his arms crossed outside his shop that as of Thursday afternoon had been mostly spared.
Chen had been up most of the night trying to ward off those trying to break in, pleading at one point with one man who took a hammer to his window to stop. Chen planned to do the same Thursday night.
Some storefronts put signs up noting they are minority-owned businesses in hopes that vandals would leave them alone.
Volunteers with brooms and garbage bags also showed up along Lake Street ready to help clean up the shattered glass, debris and other trash that littered the streets.
“We go to many of these businesses,” said one of the volunteers, Lalo Regan Gonzalez.
“It’s a whole different world,” he said as he looked down Lake Street. “It doesn’t look like Minneapolis.”
Further east, Jeff Zeitler, who owns Urban Forage Winery & Cider House, walked down the sidewalk with a neighbor, holding a snow shovel to clear glass after his front door was smashed.
“George Floyd’s death is a tragedy, it’s terrible. The police killed this man, but it doesn’t justify this,” he said.
His wife, Gita Zeitler, later sat on the stoop in front of their shop. She said she was disappointed in a lack of security provided by the police for businesses. “The Minneapolis police has been useless for a long time,” she said.
Tim Gleason, who has owned Precision Tune Auto Care on Lake for 20 years, stood outside his building as his mechanics picked up whatever tools were left inside the garage. He believed protesters stole five cars, driving them out right through the garage doors.
“Found one a block away at McDonald’s,” he said. “The worst part for me is that these guys’ tools that were stolen aren’t covered by the business insurance because it’s their personal property. So hardworking mechanics are out a bunch of money.”
‘This is going to close me’
One building spared from rioting was Soderberg’s Floral & Gift, a large, yellow flower shop on Lake and 33rd Avenue. Owner Kym Erickson had gone further down the street Thursday morning to see the rest of the destruction. She wasn’t able to sleep all night, she said, watching the chaos unfold from the top floor of her building.
“It’s hard to take it all in. It’s unbelievable,” she said. “It’s been a night of terror, it’s what it has been, to be on this street in this city last night.”
She continued: “COVID didn’t close me, but this is going to close me.”
At least 30 businesses in Uptown Minneapolis showed signs of damage Thursday, with smashed storefronts, broken doors and fresh graffiti. Along Hennepin Avenue, H&M, Urban Outfitters, Timberland and Kitchen Window were among the stores being boarded up after windows had been smashed.
The Cub Foods on Lagoon, which had some damage, was back in business on Thursday morning.
It was unclear when a number of grocery stores, banks and pharmacies that had closed would be able to reopen.
CVS, for example, said it had closed six damaged locations in Minneapolis, including two inside Target stores. U.S. Bank closed two branches in the city.
A Cub Foods spokesman said it will take “substantial time to clean and rebuild” the grocery store near Lake and Hiawatha, which suffered significant damage. In the meantime, the retailer was working to give employees shifts at other stores in the area.
Some stores, such as Magers & Quinn bookstore, which have been closed for weeks aside from curbside pickup because of the pandemic, said they will postpone plans to reopen for in-store shopping.
Some restaurants suspended takeout service.
Surly said it will postpone plans to reopen its popular beer garden on Monday.
Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said Thursday he hopes the Legislature can act to help damaged small businesses, especially those already hurting from coronavirus-related closures.
He wants to revive a proposal to provide small loans to minority-owned shops when the Legislature returns for a special session in mid-June.
“Lake Street has been devastated because of COVID. There were buildings, restaurants that were closing. I’m hearing from people from Midtown Global Market and others that are bleeding cash because they can’t open,” he said.
“We were targeting microloans for small businesses anyway; I think we can come in to support.”
The Lake Street Council is collecting donations for the businesses through a new website (welovelakestreet.com).
Ingebretsen’s, a Scandinavian gifts and food store on Lake Street, had its windows smashed and computers stolen in addition to expensive blankets and wool coats.
But Julie Ingebretsen, one of the shop’s owners, said she’s more worried about her smaller neighbors who were already on the edge and barely making it before this happened.
“We’ve been here for 99 years,” she said. “We’re not going anywhere.”