FERGUSON, Mo. – Small business owners along this stretch of West Florissant Avenue are hoping for the best as they await the news of the decision of the grand jury in the case of whether or not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown.
“Small business owners have always stood with those who have made their voices peacefully heard,” said Jay Kanzler, a representative for area businesses. Kanzler read from a prepared statement flanked by men and women who own a variety of shops and stores that sell everything from groceries to hair supplies.
Kanzler pointed out that the violence that has impacted business owners since Brown’s shooting last August is still reverberating.
“As you look around this community, you see boarded up buildings,” he said, and added that for those businesses that were broken into and otherwise looted—as well as those that have been impacted by the general decline in business in past months—the impact has been devastating. Some have seen a massive decline in profits, as much as by 35 percent or more. Others have closed forever, unable to bounce back from the cost of repairs and climb out of debt. Still others remain open but are “struggling mightily.”
Still, Kanzler made a point of stating that despite the impact on them, business owners want to support positive change, a change that everyone takes part in.
“We need to decide what that community will look like.”
Even when a black man wearing a ski mask heckled the small, outdoor press conference, demanding respect for the black community, Kanzler continued calmly, though he became clearly shaken at one point and his voice warbled. The man said he is from Ferguson and his voice isn’t being heard.
That type of interaction has become a typical scene in Ferguson, where the past two nights have seen groups of about 50 protesters gathering and blocking traffic, resulting in about 10 arrests. Later, a white woman from the community gently commandeered the press microphone stands and took over the press conference to express her frustration over what she described as “white guilt” and how saddened she is by the death of Brown, who was only 18 years old.
During the last round of protests, which the half dozen business owners present said they had expected to be peaceful, most suffered losses during the final few days of looting. Most had the windows of their stores broken and some items stolen. At Sam’s Meats, owner Mohammed Yaacou had his store set afire. A Ferguson resident helped put out the fire.
Yaacou is surprisingly optimistic about the reaction to the grand jury decision, despite his past experience.
“We are peaceful, we are with everyone here in Ferguson,” said Yaacou, who noted he’s done nothing special to prepare this time. “We’re not trying to do anything different. We’re just trying to do business and serve the community.”
Dellena Johns, owner of the 911 Hair Salon just a few doors down from Sam’s, also had her store broken into during the last round of protests in August. She said her front windows were broken and looters came inside to take hair products. She was in the store with her children, 10 and 17, at the time. All three ran out the back door to safety.
Johns firmly believes in staying put, though, and her reasoning is surprising.
“To have business in your area is very important for peace,” she said. “Business grows your area.”