What One Small Business Saw at the Raleigh Protests

What One Small Business Saw at the Raleigh Protests

As nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice continue to intensify, Raleigh businesses have already suffered from the unrest that has followed peaceful protests. Here’s an ‘on the ground’ perspective on what one business in City Market experienced late Saturday night. On the following morning, it saw its community begin to pull itself back together as it prepares to get back into business once again.

Raleigh Shop’s Solidarity with Raleigh Protests

Treat, an ice cream and coffee spot in downtown Raleigh, wanted to express its support for protestors in the area on Saturday afternoon.

“I had two small pictures of George Floyd,” said Treat owner M. Allen Lombard, “reading, I can’t breathe, justice for George Floyd, solidarity with Minneapolis. I put them both on our front windows.”

Those windows weren’t smashed during Saturday night’s vandalism. Treat’s neighbors think that the fliers helped the shop escape damage, but Lombard doesn’t exactly agree. “I don’t know if the pictures did anything. Maybe these guys [breaking windows] weren’t thinking, or were acting randomly.”

Raleigh business poster
The fliers on both windows of Treat

“Only the window up above our door was broken, and the main windows were completely fine,” said Treat employee Alex Masercola.

Even though he has only recently opened the store following the coronavirus lockdown, Lombard made sure to close his doors earlier than usual on Saturday night. The protest began at 5 p.m. on Fayetteville St, only two blocks away. Lombard attended the protest when it began, as did Rebecca Buckwald, a former Treat employee. Both Lombard and Buckwald describe the protest as peaceful. “It was up to 1,000 people of mixed races and ages,” Lombard says. “It seemed peaceful and positive.” Buckwald provides the following pictures.

“My boss [Treat’s owner] wasn’t worried about the protest,” Masercola said, “but around 7 p.m., he said, ‘I think we should close up, things seem to be getting out of hand.'” Lombard had monitored the protest through news sources, and by 7:30 he was finding that crowds had grown agitated. “It was better [for Treat employees] to go home while it was daylight,” Lombard said, “and we closed at 8 p.m.”

The Raleigh Riot: “A War Zone”

Only at 9:30, when Lombard’s security company called to say that the shop had damaged glass, did he return downtown. “It was chaos,” Lombard said, “all the windows along Blount St [Treat’s location] had their windows smashed.”

Buckwald, who arrived at the scene separately, describes the scene of the riot as “a war zone.” It was filled with the sounds of smashing glass, yelling, honking horns, and garbage cans, tables, and chairs being hurled into the streets. Nearby, rioters were setting fire to garbage cans and the curtains within stores. “In a million years I wouldn’t have imagined experiencing any of that,” Buckwald said. “Police presence was zero, for hours.”

“The rioters were small groups,” Buckwald continues. “The people rioting were not engaging with anyone.” She says she believes the rioters were there to break windows and others were there to steal.

Most of the people in downtown Raleigh that night were bystanders. “They were walking on the sidewalks, clearly upset and in disbelief,” Buckwald says.

Protestors and Looters Weren’t the Same People

The riot “was a procession of people driving by and flipping off everyone or yelling, or people walking by and smashing windows.” Both he and Buckwald say that the looters that night didn’t match the members of the earlier, peaceful protest. “I don’t think the people protesting were the same people vandalizing stores,” he said, “and I saw both crowds.”

How does he describe the later group? “The looters were all the same age, late teens to early twenties, and a mix of black and white. People were photographing and taking videos, some even wearing Halloween masks.”

Many business owners and employees in downtown Raleigh that night stood in front of their storefronts for hours. Lombard called the police a few times. At one point, a detective told him, “No one is coming tonight. Maybe someone will be there tomorrow.”

“We were left alone by the rioters and we were given words of support by passers by, as well as some local residents who stood with us on and off,” Buckwald says.

“Around 2:30, [looters] had started a fire on the corner of Blount and Martin,” Lombard says.” They were throwing papers from looted stores into it.”

At that point, SWAT teams and firefighters arrived to put out the fire and disperse the crowds. Lombard reported that the streets grew quiet, at least until 3 a.m. At that point, Lombard saw two young men appear on the street, and one began firing a handgun into the sky. “That’s when I left,” he said.

Raleigh Patches Up Downtown

But in the morning, after the night’s uncertainty and damages, Lombard returned to find a hopeful scene. “Hundreds of people were downtown,” he reports, “volunteering to cleaning up, sweeping up the glass, and passing out food and water to volunteers.” Store employees and owners had to board up their storefronts with plywood, but their fellow Raleigh residents had come to offer a hand.

Lombard hired a crew to board up Treat with plywood, and a nearby volunteer with tools stopped in to help them. “The volunteer effort was touching,” Lombard said. “Downtown is all boarded up now.”

Raleigh business after protests
Treat on Sunday morning

He has had to close up Treat since Sunday morning. For now, he can’t guess when it will reopen. In the meantime, he has to grapple with how the riots have harmed supporters of the protest. “I don’t think [the vandals] knew anything about the places they hit,” he said. “My neighbor [City Market Barber Shop] runs a black barbershop full of black staff, and his business has been upstanding in the black community for twenty years.” Like other downtown businesses, City Market Barber Shop had its windows smashed overnight on Saturday. “I saw businesses, whose owners would support demonstrations against police brutality, vandalized.”

Other Raleigh Businesses Weren’t as Lucky

As stated, Treat fared better than its neighbors. “The [shop windows] next to us were completely destroyed,” Masercola explained. “[City Market Barber Shop] near us had its windows broken. Royale, their windows were smashed. Social Status, a high-end sneaker and clothing store, was completely raided. Hangers, shoes, boxes, and bags were all over the place. All the businesses in our area were completely destroyed with glass everywhere.”

City-wide, the police sometimes confronted demonstrators with riot gear and tear gas to clear the streets. Reports say that the police enacted these tactics once demonstrators had begun vandalizing monuments, smashing storefronts and looting businesses. Other protestors report that the riot gear and tear gas came out during the peaceful demonstrations.

What Now for Raleigh Protests?

The damage to Raleigh businesses from these protests has led to a city-wide curfew on Monday night. Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said in a statement, “By setting a curfew, my hope is that this will allow our community to pause, collect ourselves, begin to repair the damage, and turn our focus to the important work of finding connection and commonality.”

Governor Roy Cooper activated the National Guard for both Raleigh and Charlotte on Sunday afternoon. He also reaffirmed his support of protests against police brutality. “Let me be clear about one thing: People are more important than property. Black Lives do Matter.”

North Carolina News Daily will monitor any continuing unrest in Raleigh, Charlotte, and other North Carolina cities and towns. We will also keep in touch with the small businesses they affect. If you are a small business owner or an employee with a story to tell, we hope you’ll reach out.