Business owners and community members were left picking up the pieces Monday after looters ransacked an untold number of storefronts across Chicago the day before.
As Chicago police prioritized protecting the Loop from another round of destructive protests after demonstrations Saturday devolved into chaos, many neighborhood businesses said they were left vulnerable to pillaging with officers stretched so thin.
In addition to the South and West sides, which were rampaged by looters, hot retail corridors in Wicker Park, West Town and the West Loop were also hit, among many other neighborhoods. Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday admonished those responsible for stealing from their communities and likened looting a business to “destroying someone’s dreams.”
“Those small businesses sacrificed and saved money to have their dream realized,” said Lightfoot. “They hired employees from your neighborhood to serve you. You took their hope and destroyed it. God help us all if we believe we can express our pain by destroying hopes, dreams and fortunes of others.”
‘Never happened before’
Lillian Wright, a nail technician at 79 Nails at 305 E. 79th St., was in disbelief Monday afternoon as she stood on shattered glass from the store’s windows.
The night before, looters stole almost everything from the salon, including the cash register. The only thing that remained was a television mounted to a wall.
“This is one of the shops on 79th Street with all black workers,” said Wright, who’s African American. “This has never happened. This doesn’t make sense. This is not protesting. This is looting.”
State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, stopped by 79 Nails on Monday to assess the damage.
“I’m in Springfield trying to get businesses to build or locate to the district,” Sims said. “What do I say to them now?”
Sims said his staff is now looking into insurance options for owners and urging them to file a police report to detail the damages. He’s also working to have his district “declared an emergency” after the crime spree.
The nail salon has been closed for months in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and Wright had been looking forward to returning to work on Wednesday, when many businesses in Chicago were expected to reopen with additional safety precautions.
“I haven’t been making money for three months,” Wright said. “How do we come back to work with nothing to work with?”
Citywide reopenings delayed?
And now, with the mounting civil unrest gripping Chicago, it’s unclear whether the city will allow the phased-in reopening to begin then. Lightfoot said officials “have not made any decision one way or the other” to move forward with that plan.
Rosa Escareno, the city’s commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, held back tears as she talked about small business owners whose livelihoods have been devastated and said her staff was out in the neighborhoods assessing the damage.
Asif Raza, the longtime owner of Star Sub at 7900 S. Exchange, was among the growing number of small business owners that have been targeted in the looting wave.
When Raza heard glass shattering Sunday at neighboring businesses, he decided to close his restaurant and make a run for it. Within an hour the store’s alarm was going off but his desperate calls to the police went unanswered.
“They took my TV, all of my food, whatever really they could grab on to,” Raza said. “We are going to have to start all over now.”
Star Sub and five other businesses clustered in a small shopping center in South Chicago were all hit. On Monday, the destruction was still apparent: Yellow paint was splattered across the mall’s brick facade, shattered glass was strewn on the ground and garbage bags were filled with other debris.
Still, Raza was pleasantly surprised when members of the community rallied behind the businesses Monday morning and helped clean up the mess. Michael Baker, who once worked for Raza, was there at 7 a.m. to sweep and pick up trash.
Raza “gave me my first job just dumping trash when I was like 8 years old, so I needed to come out here and help him,” said Baker, who’s now 42 years old.
“You all are wrong for messing with him. He will give you the clothes off his back and you did this to him?”
Contributing: Evan F. Moore