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Riots That Followed Anti-Racism Protests Come At Great Cost To Black-Owned Businesses


This has been the summer of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, but rioters took advantage of the momentum to damage local businesses. Stacey Vanek Smith from our daily economics podcast The Indicator from Planet Money spoke to one business owner in Minneapolis about his experience.


STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: About seven years ago, Chris Montana opened his first business, a distillery. He called it Du Nord. He opened it in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minn. Du Nord became this popular neighborhood spot. And then in May, George Floyd was killed by Police Officer Derek Chauvin, and Chauvin's precinct was just a few blocks away from Chris' distillery. When he realized the marches were going right past his distillery, he and his employees set up a table giving out water bottles and hand sanitizer to the protesters. But Chris soon realized that people participating in the Black Lives Matter marches were not the only people coming to his neighborhood.

CHRIS MONTANA: There were the protesters and then there were the partiers. And that would eventually turn into the rioters. And they were setting random cars on fire, you know, drinking and doing whatever.

VANEK SMITH: He put signs up saying black-owned business, and then he locked everything up, went home to his family and hoped for the best. The next day, he came to see what had happened, and when he got to Du Nord, he saw that one of the doors had been forced open.

MONTANA: They set multiple fires. They stole our inventory. I found cases of our booze all up and down the street. And it was the sprinkler system coming on and putting about a foot of water in the entire warehouse. That's what did most of the damage. It feels like someone punched you in the face.

VANEK SMITH: And it wasn't just his business. He started to realize that actually he got off easy.

MONTANA: A gentleman who owns a business just a few blocks away from us and his business has been burned to the ground, everything 100% gone. And he was saying, look, it's just stuff.

VANEK SMITH: But Chris had worked really hard for that stuff, and the damage to his business was enormous, hundreds of thousands of dollars. Rioting and property destruction has happened in cities across the U.S., and business owners like Chris Montana are left trying to pick up the pieces all in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And they are up against some formidable odds. Bradley Hardy is an economist at American University. He has studied the economic impact of property damage and rioting on neighborhoods. Bradley looked at neighborhoods that had seen damage back in 1968. Even 20, 30 years later, Bradley says those neighborhoods never fully recovered.

BRADLEY HARDY: They had lower educational attainment, lower incomes, higher use of welfare programs, higher poverty rates. Those neighborhoods essentially continued to lag behind other counterpart neighborhoods.

VANEK SMITH: Distillery owner Chris Montana says he and other local businesses in his neighborhood in Minneapolis are doing everything they can to beat those odds. At the same time, Chris says he's been incredibly inspired and moved by the Black Lives Matter movement.

MONTANA: But you have to think about a world where you're told at a young age, hey, by the way, because of the color of your skin, that story of American greatness doesn't actually reach all the way to you. If all we had to do was burn a few businesses, that's absolutely worth it. That's just stuff.

VANEK SMITH: Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.