Life after looting: Many Chicago business owners still struggling to rebuild

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CHICAGO — It was a summer of chaos with widespread looting, violence and arson that gripped the Chicago. Now, almost two months later, many big box stores, like those in downtown have reopened. But some of the smaller, neighborhood businesses are still struggling.

Chella Holcomb who owned Luv Handles, a gift shop on 47th Street in Bronzeville lost her business when looters set fire to a business next door.  The entire strip had to be torn down, leaving Holcomb to figure out how to recoup the $100,000 she invested.

“People don’t know how insurance works,” Holcomb said. “I haven’t gotten paid for insurance yet.”

David Williams’s streetwear shop Kulture was looted. Insurance covered most of his losses, but he said his carrier ended up dropping him. And his store was broken into two more times, leaving him to restock the store with his own money. 

“This is what like my dream was,” he said. “And I just have never been a quitter. That won’t sit right with me, just to stop.”

Across the the city, clothing, grocery, and liquor stores were ripped open and ripped off of thousands of dollars of merchandise during two major looting incidents; one in the late May after the death of George Floyd, the other in August after Chicago police shot a Black man in Englewood.

Holcomb said she doesn’t approve of the looting, but “I do understand anger.” 

Williams agrees.

“I definitely understand,” he said. “It won’t be right for me to sit here and say, ‘Oh, I understand, because that could be me laying on that ground with 16 shots in my back.’ It’s for a bigger cause. And if this is a way of them getting people attention. Okay.”

In some cases, buildings were burned never to reopen or remain boarded up months later while owners try to recoup their losses.

Siri Hibbler, CEO and Chairman of the Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce said they’ve lost about 10 businesses.  Most of her member businesses are on Madison Street, near Pulaski Road on the city’s West Side.

She said between the looting, the drug dealing, and businesses lost during the rioting in 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, many business owners have been left feeling hopeless.

“Their question to me was ‘Siri, do they want us to leave? Is that what it i?’” she said. “So they won’t do anything about the drugs, they won’t do anything about the way it looks. They won’t help us financially. None of them received the finances.” 

Samir Mayekar, the deputy mayor for neighborhood and economic development said there aren’t any hard numbers or estimates on how many businesses were looted or destroyed but Mayor Lori Lightfoot has allocated $150 million for small business loans and grants. 

The outlook is better on the city’s Northwest Side in Alderman Emma Mitt’s ward.  Several new developments are in the works including a car wash, the new public safety training academy and two new community centers. 

And the Walmart on North Avenue that she fought hard to get in 2006 is being redesigned after it was looted. It will house a clinic that will offer mammograms, pediatricians, and psychologists.

“I took it very seriously,” she said. “To know that you have to do something, if you want to get some. I can’t sit around and moan and complain about what I lost because I still have the future ahead of me. And I got a lot more to gain.”

Lauren Amos with Urban Juncture Foundation based in Bronzeville said, “There are too many positive forces in play that, that they will not even think about the, what if it doesn’t, because that’s just not an option.”

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