Down the street at Solo Insurance, Dan McMullen was happy to talk. He didn’t have any customers calling anyway. Though a window there was broken in August, his boarded-up storefront avoided the fires. His neighbors weren’t so lucky: The building that once held cellphone and beauty supply stores was reduced to a pile of rubble, and he doesn’t think the landlord will rebuild.
“Did we receive any damage? Yeah, because who is going to come here now?” he said. “It’s killing us. Nobody wants to come. It’s all been blown up, burned down, and people are afraid.”
He said his business has died. On a normal day before, about 15 customers would come in. On Tuesday he had two, and just in the past week, he had more than 30 cancellations. He said he might consider moving. He worried that if the federal investigation into Brown’s death also returns no charges, another round of vandalism could ensue.
“It’s hard to move when you don’t have any business,” he said. “It’s hard to move when you’ve been here 20 years and you have a lot of customers and they know that you’re here. But in the same breath, because of all this, if I could move to a more secure location, where it’s not such ground zero … It would be good to move.”
McMullen didn’t fault the police for closing down the street last week, though it meant he had to get a police escort to his office and no customers could come. “Why would I be mad at the police?” he said. “They have a job to do … If they can get these scumbags that did this stuff, let them collect all the evidence they want.”
Schellman said that blocking off the street was important so that police could “conduct thorough investigations into cause and origin and evidence of the arsons.” As of Dec. 1, however, police had arrested just one person for arson related to the riots.
Across the street, Ferguson Burger Bar owners Charles and Kizzie Davis decided not to board their windows, but their storefront was spared, just as it was in August. Charles Davis credited God.
Still, Kizzie Davis, who described herself as a “crybaby,” spent days in fear. She, too, felt betrayed by the governor. When Nixon went to St. Louis on the day of the grand jury announcement, he stopped at the burger joint before his press conference and made assurances.
“The city ended up being on fire hours after he left,” she said. “We had nobody to protect us until everything was already out of hand.” The Davises didn’t close the restaurant that night until after 11 p.m., with fires and gunfire all around them.
The next morning, because the street was closed, the restaurant had to close too, losing several days of business. Worse, the burger bar suffered an electrical outage, and the repair crew wasn’t allowed past the police barrier. All the restaurant’s inventory was lost.
In August, Nixon, along with civic leaders, launched the Small Business Relief Program to give $1 million in interest-free loans to affected businesses. The Reinvest North County Fund has raised more than $300,000 and distributed more than $100,000 in grants since August.
McMullen said insurance covered the damage to his building but not his lost revenue. He applied for a grant and wasn’t accepted. “They didn’t give me nothing,” he said. “Maybe because I’m white. I’m just saying.”
Zisser scoffed at the idea of a loan. “That’s what everybody wants after the governor doesn’t do crap is an interest-free loan to pay back that you sign for personally, so that if your business goes broke, you still owe them the money,” he fumed.
Instead, many businesses have turned to GoFundMe.com for donations. Ferguson Market and Liquor, where Brown allegedly stole cigars shortly before he was killed, was looted in August, and a fire was set there last week. Its GoFundMe site has raised more than $32,000. McMullen has one too, though it has been less successful. Kizzie Davis launched a page for the burger bar the day after Thanksgiving.
Adam Weinstein put his trust not in Nixon but in Smith & Wesson. The owner of County Guns made news in August when he and his heavily armed associates defended his store. He has since moved out of Ferguson (for reasons unrelated to the protests), but his business partner still owns a tattoo parlor on West Florissant, and when the fires started, they returned with their guns.
“Nothing was touched in that strip mall, and it was the only one,” he said. “After the grand jury, we had a couple of waves of vehicles come through — guys in masks and looking all scary and everything, but once again, they take a look at 15 guys with rifles and handguns, and I think they realize that’s something they don’t want to get into.”
Weinstein added that business at the tattoo shop, with its boarded windows, has been down roughly 50 percent.
“It’s just pathetic how you destroy your own neighborhood,” he said. “Ferguson, I don’t care how long you go, it’s never going to be the same. I feel sad for the residents, the ones who truly wanted to make a statement against certain issues, and they were just overshadowed by a group of thugs.”
In spite of everything, Kizzie Davis said her business won’t follow Weinstein out of town. “The community has shown us so much love,” she said. “We would like to at least stay in Ferguson. It’s only right.”