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Melrose businesses begin to recover from looting damage

LOS ANGELES — Retail businesses on Melrose and Fairfax are beginning to slowly reopen their doors for business after being shut down by the COVID-19 outbreak and then looters. 

On May 27, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that retail stores within Los Angeles County would be able to reopen for in-person shopping with COVID-19 safety restrictions. Most businesses on Melrose and Fairfax were open for no more than three days before Black Lives Matter demonstrations made their way to the area on May 30 and turned into a frenzy of looting throughout the night. The protests were organized to show indignation and outrage for the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis who died after a police officer pinned him down with a knee to the neck for more than eight minutes. 

Joey Harris, a 20-year storeowner of Spokes ‘n Stuff, a neighborhood bicycle shop, whose store was affected by the looting stated, “The police just didn’t have the right tactics. [Looting] happened [May 29] downtown, so they should’ve been prepared. “I’m very pro-police and I was very disappointed in their response to this…” 

Harris said the National Guard did an excellent job of patrolling the streets which, “the police department should’ve done and didn’t do. … [The police] made a line and that was it, and [the store is] one block away and they didn’t come.” 

 “They could’ve just stayed in their car and drove up here and [the looters] would’ve dispersed,” Harris added. “ … What was very disappointing was that my whole store was wide open, so I’m sure that other stores were wide open too. [Were] there any officers protecting the [store] so no fires happened? There was nobody here. No one protecting anything.”

Getting restarted has been difficult, Harris said.

“I had to secure the place, so I got new windows,” he said. “First, I had to protect my content because I want to get new inventory. Trying to get new inventory is difficult now because there’s nothing available.

The best thing about the ordeal is the way the community has reacted to Harris and his business.

“What’s nice is that a lot of people in the community came and helped,” he said. “They helped me clean up the glass, they brought sandwiches and drinks and condolences, and said they’re gonna come support us more than they ever have.” 

The owner of a four-year-old vintage store on Melrose also has had difficulties reopening. 

“It’s been hard,” said the owner who identified himself as Ludvic. “We just reopened two days ago.

After boarding up the windows, Ludvic had to repair walls that were damaged while removing the boards.

“You have to remove the boards, patch the holes, repaint the shop,” he said. “After two and a half months of COVID, we were closed for 10 days because of the riots, [but] we are optimistic that this is going to come back somehow.” 

In the aftermath, Ludvic said he was trying to stay positive.

“Try to be constructive,”he said. “The cause behind [this], and the justice needed to be made, is important so we cannot complain about protests because we are only here to support it… it’s for a good change.” 

Another local business owner on Melrose, Elizabeth Mason who has owned the Paper Bag Princess for 25 years, said “It has been hectic,” in an emailed statement. 

“Having survived my share of trials in business, [during] COVID-19, [the] local and state government mandatory shutdown was perhaps the most trying time of my business career. … Not only did businesses face the fear of losing everything they had worked so tirelessly to build, [we’re] also risking losing our lives.”

With the repercussions of COVID-19 and the effects it had on local businesses, Mason said, “This was in no way a time of taking it easy, kicking back and exploring long forgotten hobbies with all our newfound spare time.” 

“We worked even harder, reached out to colleagues, [shared] thoughts and created a wealth of new ideas, of ways to survive what is still unknown; the new normal,” Mason said about reopening. 

While rebuilding and staying strong in the face of the unknown, Mason said, “It was not an easy decision to open my boutique up again. We had been shuttered for four long months never knowing when it would be safe again to emerge. But life is for the living. This is what we do, this is what we love.”

By Andres de Ocampo 

Contributing Writer