Ferguson, Mo. — Businesses located near the site of protests in this St. Louis suburb are seeing their operations interrupted by the civil unrest, and employer and employee alike worry what’s coming next.
Karen Gulley, a worker at Payless ShoeSource, tells National Review Online the store will be closing several hours early on Friday before confrontations between protesters and police can transpire. Gulley says one coworker is “scared to death,” and that hardly any customers have visited the store this week. “It’s impacted business, we’re real slow,” Gulley says. “I have had a couple of ladies come in here to pick up imminent orders that said they would have stayed but they were afraid. They were going to just get their stuff and go.” Payless workers say they were stuck at the store on West Florissant Street after work on Tuesday because they couldn’t exit the parking lot due to the large numbers of protesters and police.
GenX Clothing, an urban clothing store also located on West Florissant Street, has closed as early as 3 p.m. this week. Employees at the store tell NRO they were surprised they have not yet been attacked, given their proximity to other stores that had been hit — such as Foot Locker. Foot Locker appeared mostly empty on Friday, but several employees stood near the front door to watch the police gathering in the parking lot. Foot Locker’s district manager declined requests to comment, without ever taking his eyes off the police in the distance.
But it’s not just businesses located in the crosshairs of police and protesters that have been impacted. Gary Crump, the owner of Paul’s Market in Ferguson, which is located approximately two miles away from the protests, tells NRO he has received phone calls from locals checking to see if the store was open and whether or not it would be safe to shop there. Crump started working at his dad’s market in 1959, and said he feels like he’s been punched in the gut because of the chaos that ensued in Ferguson after a town policeman shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“Sunday night listening to the police radio of all the carnage, and listening to police, 2:30 in the morning I sat crying,” he says. “I’m 63 years old and I sat in my chair outside crying. And that’s how I feel about it. I put a lot of time and effort into this.”
Crump stops to thank three customers for coming in to grab a bite, and the men respond by saying, “Yep, you’re welcome and sorry about what happened Monday,” referring to the looting and clashes between police and protesters in the area. Both parties in the conversation did not appear to have a direct role in the altercations, and Crump tells NRO he doesn’t fear the looters.
“We had black customers coming in telling us ‘I’m ashamed,’” he says. Any sense of collective guilt makes little sense to Crump: “That would make me angry because you’re telling me your ashamed because you feel as though you’re black and that’s your responsibility. So should I feel ashamed that another white person — that ain’t me.”
He says some protesters drove into the town wearing masks and draping T-shirts over their license plates, determined to go “window-shopping.” Window-shopping in Ferguson, as Crump describes it, involves breaking in through the window and taking anything you want. Of course, he says, most protesters aren’t looters.
In fact, he says unfair generalizations made by mainstream-media organizations have fanned the flames in Ferguson. “It’s not a black culture, it’s a project culture,” he says. “And if you put people of any color, race, in that situation long enough, guess what, you become tribal and it doesn’t matter about the laws are or anything like that.”
Crump says what scares him is that this could have happened in several other local communities, and he ties the problem to economic woes.
“Now we’re going to have all the platitudes, everybody had to come out and get patted on the back for solving everything,” he says. “Guess what we’re doing? We’re putting all the crap back down in the sewer, putting a big old lead lid on it, steel-iron lid on it, whatever those things are, waving goodbye and hoping to God it don’t come up again. But with the way people are, it will come up again.”
He says the community will not forget what happened, but hopes it will forgive and begin to heal.
— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.