When Windsor Jewelry owner Greg Bires received a call from the alarm company about broken glass in his Monument Circle store at around 1:15 a.m. last Saturday, he felt initially relieved. At least they didn’t break in, he thought as vandals raided downtown after protests against the murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer. They just hit the window.
But then, 20 minutes later, I got a second call – the store’s motion sensors had been triggered. All of them. “That meant there were people everywhere in the store,” says Bires.
He watched on an Instagram live video as “dozens and dozens” of people poured into his shop, smashed display cases and put down drawers full of rings and clocks, and so impregnated the carpet with glass that it could not be saved. “It took until 3:30 or 4 in the morning,” he says. “Then my alarms finally stopped ringing.”
According to Bires, Windsor Jewelry was only reopened for three days after it closed due to coronavirus restrictions before the looters struck on Saturday morning – and then broke through the boards Bires had laid over the broken windows to go for on Saturday night return the second round. “I understand where the demonstrators are from,” he says. “But the people who did this to my shop and other downtown businesses weren’t part of the people trying to get the message across.”
Ben Diallo and Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo, who own J. Benzal Menswear on Washington Street, had planned to take their daughters to a Faith march in Indiana at the Statehouse on Sunday afternoon. The couple, who are black, were outraged by George Floyd’s death at the white officer’s knee, which was buried in the black man’s neck for almost nine minutes.
But then they got loads of calls and text messages on Saturday night: friends watched their store get ransacked on the evening news live. When they arrived on Sunday morning to investigate the damage, their spirits sank. “Everything was destroyed,” says Diallo. “It was total chaos.”
The floor was littered with overturned mannequins and overturned tables. Except for a pair of gold boots and black sneakers, a display rack in the front windows was empty. The looters left a sledgehammer, liquor bottles, and the wooden planks they had used to break the windows. The shirts and jeans that had not been stolen were strewn on the street.
While Shaheed-Diallo says that she and her husband “obviously support” the protests, the vandalism pains her heart. “The unrest and looting in the evening were not linked to the peaceful protests that took place during the day,” she says. “They were really positive.”
Diallo says that while he considered showing a sign identifying J. Benzal as a black-owned company, he doesn’t think it made any difference. “And it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a black- or white-owned company,” he says. “It’s still a small company. I didn’t want to put up a sign because I feel like we’re all together. “
Connie Lee, who owns the Mikado Japanese restaurant on Georgia Street and Illinois Street, feels at odds. On the one hand, she supports the protests. On the other side, the restaurant, whose windows were broken, has been in her family since 1997 and was already struggling after trying to survive due to coronavirus restrictions after two and a half months of perform-only surgery.
“I feel so much guilty about a place of privilege that says, ‘Oh, I’m worried about insurance and property damage,” she says. “In the grand scheme of things, this is nothing compared to what they are black community has endured. “
She says that while discouraged by the damage done to her restaurant, she understands the need for the black community to speak out. “I’ve got to the point where I think, ‘Let people have their anger if that’s the only way they can be heard,” she says.
Bires says that while angry when he saw his store’s Instagram video being searched, he did not accuse police of doing nothing more to protect downtown stores. “IMPD had an incredibly tough job this past weekend,” he says. “And I’m glad none of them lost their lives or were seriously injured.”
However, Diallo says the city should have done more to protect businesses. “It was clear that something would happen on Saturday night based on what we saw on Friday,” he says. “We saw that the curfew on Sunday helped. Why didn’t we have one on Saturday?”
Shaheed-Diallo adds that although the police were heavily represented at the protests, they did not see many officers elsewhere. “There was a lot of emphasis on protecting government buildings,” she says. “But no companies.”
As owners of shops and restaurants that already had problems due to the coronavirus during the two nights of destruction, they are grateful that the insurance covers part of the estimated damage in the millions. But Bires says business won’t get back to normal until people feel safe shopping and eating in Mile Square again. “We have to find out how we can make our streets safe and friendly again,” he says. “The city center has finally reached a point where it got lively again and people wanted to live and move here, and we mustn’t lose that.”
According to Bires, the support and concern he has received over the past week has been overwhelming. “I got calls from several groups trying to set up a GoFundMe account,” he says. “But I don’t feel comfortable with people who just give me money. If someone wants to support me and other businesses in the city center, they can buy gift cards. At least this is how I give them back when they’re ready to come in. “
Like the Diallos, he emphasizes that all small businesses in the city center are together. “We are all struggling with the health crisis,” he says. “The church needs to rally behind everyone who is downtown to make sure we survive. My business has been part of Indianapolis for 101 years and I don’t want it to go away. “
Yet even if people feel safe downtown, the plywood covers may be in place for most of June. Lee says the current lead time is two to three weeks due to high demand, even though the insurance covers the glass replacement for Mikado’s windows.
Entrepreneurs are determined to keep going, however: Windsor Jewelry is asking customers to call ahead to schedule appointments. Lee says Mikado is closed this week for tidying up but might try opening takeout next week. The Diallos say they are working on moving operations to J. Benzal’s Carmel and Fashion Mall locations while they clean up the downtown store, which they estimate will take at least two weeks.
But even if downtown looks like itself again, Shaheed-Diallo hopes the bigger conversation about police brutality and the value of black life will continue. “We hope the aftermath of this protest and the looting won’t lose sight of why people are so frustrated,” she says. “If policy change can be the victim of loss of business and goods, it’s worth it.”