Minneapolis businesses caught between pandemic and protests

Pedestrians pass in front of burned out businesses along East Lake Street in Minneapolis yesterday. (AP pic)

MINNEAPOLIS: The Fehrenkamp brothers were excited to reopen outdoor seating on their pub’s patio on Monday, when Minneapolis began easing Covid-19 lockdown restrictions – but before that could happen rioters set their restaurant ablaze.

Like them, dozens of business owners across this populous city in the northern state of Minnesota have found themselves in a difficult financial situation, facing both the effects of the novel coronavirus and violent protests over the death of George Floyd.

Floyd was killed on May 27 after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on the 46-year-old black man’s neck for almost nine minutes.

A bystander video of the incident sparked a nationwide uproar over police brutality, and protests have broken out every night since. The demonstrations have often turned into rioting and looting.

The Iron Door pub, located about half a mile from a police station, paid the price of the protesters’ anger Friday night.

Daniel Fehrenkamp, watching from his home on a security camera feed, saw a small group of people break down the door, steal beers and set a fire behind the bar.

The sprinklers activated, and water rained inside the building for six hours – causing more damage than the flames.

On Monday, the two brothers met with an insurance agent to assess the damage.

“This is the fifth location I’ve looked at today,” said insurance agent Trevor Winter, visibly upset at damage caused by vandals. He took note of the broken windows, the swollen, water-logged floor, the flooded televisions and blackened walls.

‘Thin ice’

“This is at least three months’ rebuild,” said Daniel Fehrenkamp, adding that Minneapolis tradespeople are overwhelmed with work because of widespread riot damages.

“Glass replacement is nine to 10 weeks out in the city already. And I’m sure that will get worse,” he said.

“We were already on thin ice with the pandemic,” said Daniel’s brother Jack.

“Hopefully we will bounce back.”

Their pub had been closed for two months and was only able to start offering take-out service for three weeks, thanks to a federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.

The brothers failed to get their insurance to compensate for their loss of income. Daniel said it was “heartbreaking”, but he’s hopeful for a more favourable outcome this time.

While awaiting the answer, he will rely on his wife’s income and take a small part-time job to make ends meet.

In order to avoid the same fiery fate, Jack McCrery – the owner of Zoe Bakery Cafe, just 100 yards away – has been spending every night in his restaurant.

“We’ve been inside our business the last three nights in a row,” he said.

“Hopefully that plays some part in it.”

The store at a neighbouring gas station was reduced to ashes.

Others have boarded up their shops with panels that read “Justice for George”, “Kids live here” or “Minority Owned”, in an attempt to deter protesters.

‘It will be alright’

On the other side of the city, in the primarily black neighbourhoods, Tom Bernard was preparing to take up his scissors and razor once more after two months of lockdown when a Molotov cocktail set a neighbouring shop on fire late Sunday. The flames damaged his barber shop.

“The grand reopening tomorrow is gonna have to wait a while,” he said ironically.

Bernard said he plans to “stay at home for a couple months. That’s about it. Drove my wife nuts, but nothing we can do about it”.

Like the Fehrenkamp brothers, Bernard praised the Minneapolis residents who rushed in early in the morning armed with shovels and brooms to help clean up the debris.

City residents have also generously participated in fundraisers, organised online or by neighbourhood councils, to support the city’s small-business owners.

“Us Minnesotans will get by. We will suck it up, it will be alright,” said Bernard.

“Keep our fingers crossed that it does not happen again.”