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Looting devastates already shaken businesses

NEW YORK (AP) — Looting and vandalism in cities across the country have dealt another blow to small businesses that were already reeling from the coronavirus outbreak.

Along with big chain stores like Target, Walgreen and Macy’s, independent retailers in neighborhoods and downtown sections were targets of vandals and looters who struck as police mobilized to contain large demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Many businesses had been closed by state and local government orders as officials tried to contain the spread of the coronavirus, leaving owners with little or no revenue since March. Now, already facing an uncertain future amid ongoing restrictions related to the virus, owners must figure out how to rebuild or relocate their companies.

Over three nights, Ahmed Muhumud’s Minneapolis optician shop was vandalized, looted and burned, leaving Midtown Eye Care in ruins. The store was just getting back to business after having been shut since mid-March by the virus outbreak.

“This has been a difficult couple of months, and now with the protesters and everything that followed — it’s very difficult,” Muhumud said.

He’s trying to figure out what to do next — the building, which may not be salvageable, is in a hard-hit area with many minority-owned businesses that were also looted and burned.

“We don’t know where to move,” Muhumud said.

Small businesses employ nearly 60 million people, or nearly half the U.S. workforce. Since the coronavirus brought the U.S. economy to a virtual standstill, the government has loaned businesses hundreds of billions of dollars to help them survive and keep their employees on staff as unemployment soars toward 20 percent. But some won’t make it, and bankruptcies are already on the rise.

Even as they pick up pieces of broken glass and try to assess their losses, many owners say they understand the anger over the killing of Floyd, who died after a police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

Johnny Grimes reopened his hair salon in Birmingham, Ala., on Sunday after being closed for two months due to the virus outbreak.

That night the windows of the Wheelhouse Salon were shattered and the establishment looted.

As Grimes boarded up the salon Monday, he said he was devastated by what had happened to his business but was sympathetic with those who demonstrated against police brutality.

“I just hope that this isn’t all for nothing,” he said. “I hope that this does spark some kind of national conversation on race, racial reconciliation, police brutality and how the African American, the black community, is treated in America,” said Grimes, who is white.

Sam Mabrouk tried to save his denim clothing store from being vandalized and left barren amid demonstrations Friday in downtown Columbus. Mabrouk, who arrived from Egypt more than a decade ago, owns two retail stores in the city; one, 89 and Pine, was destroyed.

Mabrouk said he tried to convince the people ransacking his store and other minority-owned businesses nearby that he understood their cause and begged them to leave his store alone.

“I lost everything in one night,” Mabrouk said of the estimated $70,000 in stolen merchandise.

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