On May 29, Black Lives Matter protests filled the streets of Downtown Los Angeles to show outrage for the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in Minneapolis. Throughout the weekend, peaceful protests turned into riots and looting, leaving many local businesses affected.
One of those businesses heavily damaged and looted was The Small Shop LA, operated by four-year owner Joel Stallworth.
“They say a riot is the cry of the unheard,” he said. “We need justice (and) change in America. … All this can be replaced,” he said, referencing his business. “When you damage people’s lives, that hurts me more than my shop.
“The protests created change. The riots created change. Without the riot and the protests, we have no change. I don’t agree with people tearing up people’s property, but I understand it. People need to be heard (and) protected in a country that says, ‘Freedom and justice for all.’ We don’t see that as people of color, so it’s hard for me not to be with them. I’ve always put (the people) first. … I’ve got love for the people, (and) the people showed me love back.”
Stallworth’s supporters started a GoFundMe for The Small Shop LA, and the monies raised were enough to rebuild the store, which sells streetwear clothing and other items.
“As fast as the community saw the teardown, they built it back up quicker and better,” he said. “My store looks better. I have more customers than ever. It’s actually been a better experience.”
Stallworth said he feels a stronger connection with the community since the looting and expressed his gratitude to those who donated to The Small Shop LA’s GoFundMe.
“I woke up crying some mornings (because) of all the outpour of love via Instagram after the aftermath (of the looting).”
Stallworth’s plans include a grand reopening sometime in September, as well as educating himself about migrant children being separated from their families at the border, “to do a project with shirts and hats to give half of the proceeds to (those affected).”
Shan Bassam, business associate at Zara Jewelers, was also affected by the looting, as it lost $100,000 worth of merchandise.
Bassam thought, “This is the end of it.”
“Deep inside you feel like (the) respect you had for (the) city, country and police department isn’t there anymore,” he said, “… We do appreciate what (Los Angeles) has offered us before the looting … (but the) police department and fire department could have done more (during the incident).”
Like many minority-owned and -operated local businesses, Bassam worries about the safety of his business’ merchandise.
“After the looting, me, my brother and all the other jewelers check their cameras more than they check on their kids, (because) that’s our life. That’s where we get our food, water and bread (to put on) the table for our families. … There are jewelers that are closed. They’re never going to open. … For me, personally, (I) don’t have a choice,” he said.
Zara Jewelers is open, but Bassam said he is still awaiting a handful of repairs.
“Business is OK, (but) I don’t feel how I used to feel for Los Angeles,” Bassam said, commenting on a shift in respect for Los Angeles and law enforcement.
“I’m from Afghanistan, and to be able to make some money in America, we did not bring a penny, and then you get to a place (where) almost all your life savings is on the street and (the) police cannot protect it,” Bassam said.
Bassam has been working with other local jewelers for a petition to have dedicated police officers patrolling the Jewelry District. In regard to safety and a feeling of security for affected businesses, Bassam said, “Some local government has to come and give a speech in Los Angeles. … No one is telling us anything. Should we open the doors? Should we leave it closed? What’s the next step?
“If the same thing happens again, how am I going to protect myself,” Bassam said about his current mindset. “I know that I can’t count on the police … (but) I have hope. I see light at the end of the tunnel, eventually we’ll get through it … (but) there will be a scar for the rest of my life.”
Bill Nabiti, 35-year owner of Discount Electronics, is open after being broken into and looted but said, “Still I’m struggling. I lost a lot of money; they stole a lot of money. … (Business) is going, but it’s not how it used to be. I don’t have enough merchandise. … It takes time, but it’s going to be alright.
“When the jungle burns, good or bad burns (along with it),” Nabiti said. “I’m used to it. It happened to me before, during Rodney King in 1992.” But, he admitted, “It’s sad when you see all the merchandise on the street.
“I have employees, so I’m worried about them, too. They didn’t have a job for a while,” he said, referring to COVID-19 business closures prior to the looting.
“I think the police department should be ready. (Next time) they need to act sooner. … It’s a shame.”
Fortunately, Nabiti was able to open his store after a week but said, “I’m the only one surviving. … I know all the electronic stores (in Downtown). Five stores (have) been closed in the past three months because they cannot make it. One after the other.”
Nabiti’s customers were empathetic to his situation. “They grabbed a broom and (helped) clean glass (from windows). Most of them were sorry it happened to me,” he said.
Sauli Danpour, principal owner of 700 Wilshire, a building in the Downtown Financial District, is an Iranian immigrant whose building was affected.
“It’s been a struggle,” he said about recovering from COVID-19 closures, riots and other setbacks for himself and his tenants.
“It’s my understanding that in the Financial District, my building was damaged the most because of the riots,” he said. “My concern isn’t so much my business as it is my tenants, especially small businesses.”
Danpour is a board member on the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, which creates economic development initiatives for community businesses.
“One of the proposals I made recently was to set up al frescos for some of these food establishments,” he said about his recent initiative to set up outdoor dining spaces to generate more business for Downtown food establishments.
As a landlord, Danpour said, “I started (my) business with borrowed money, and it was a lot of hard work. I do relate to the challenges, especially for small-business owners. … That’s why I help (them) as much as I can.”
John Prescott, owner of Throw Clay LA, repainted his building and fixed his store’s logo after his store was vandalized during the protests turned riots. Since then, Prescott said, “Things have certainly gotten better from the standpoint of my business.”
Throw Clay LA reopened a month ago, and Prescott expressed gratitude, saying, “I’m so lucky to have the community that I have. … I was definitely helped out by my members, and I try to do the same in return.”
What helped Prescott while his business was closed was “just staying positive (and) keeping people engaged,” he said. “Whether or not it’s a sale being made, just being able to have engagement with the community is very important, making sure people know you’re still here.”