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Ferguson and Dellwood struggle to recover from six months of unrest

Ferguson and Dellwood struggle to recover from six months of unrest

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Six months after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, Ferguson and Dellwood are still feeling the effects and showing the physical scars of the unrest that followed.

Home sales are down by 38 percent in Ferguson since the first round of trouble in August.

Burned hulks of buildings still remain along West Florissant Avenue, reminding would-be shoppers of the arson and anger.

Store owners say business is down sharply. Many customers are still afraid to come, they say.

And yet, there are signs of hope. Many shops have reopened, after sweeping up glass and replacing stolen merchandise. The city of Ferguson lists eight damaged buildings where owners have either made repairs or plan to rebuild. St. Louis County last week said it would demolish 18 burned-out buildings.

That’s what’s needed, say owners of the surviving businesses. Customers need to see visible revival before they’ll feel safe coming back.

Perhaps the most hopeful sign occurred in December, when Royal Furniture opened its doors on West Florissant in Dellwood. Its collection of new furniture sprawls across a giant showroom in the area that was hit by violence in November, after a St. Louis grand jury decided not to indict police Officer Darren Wilson for Brown’s death.

Tony Kouk and his brothers bought the building, an old Rothman furniture store, on July 1, just five weeks before the initial protests.

Undeterred, the brothers began renovation work. “We spent a lot of money on remodeling — $80,000 to $90,000. We gave it a whole new look,” Kouk said.

Kouk, who also owns a beauty supply business in St. Louis, said the November riots didn’t discourage him either.

After all, north St. Louis County needs furniture. “This is going to be the number one street in St. Louis,” Kouk said. “There are nice people, nice neighbors — not like what people saw on TV. We are blessed. Business is very good.”

That’s not a common sentiment on West Florissant. Up and down the street, business owners who remain open say sales are down sharply.

People bring in gold and silver to sell at the Cash 4 Gold shop on West Florissant in Dellwood. The November riots left customers reluctant to set foot in the neighborhood carrying the family treasure.

“There was no business for the first month. People are frightened. It was hard,” said the owner, Abdul, who was reluctant to give his last name — gold dealers risk robbery.

Lately, more customers have been showing up, and he thinks that bodes well for the future. “I’m not going to run away from the trouble. It would be cowardly to close down,” he said.

‘I PRAY I CAN STAY’

Idowu Ajibola says he’s seen the neighborhood rise and fall in his eight years as owner of Rehoboth Pharmacy. “I was here when it was very depressed. It improved fast over the last few years,” he said. “It was great. It was becoming kind of prosperous.”

On Nov. 24, looters hit the pharmacy and the beauty supply business he operates next door. Since then, the pharmacy business is down a little, but the beauty business took a severe hit.

“I want to stay. I pray I can stay,” Ajibola said.

Ajibola is from Nigeria — an immigrant like many other small business owners in the riot area. A reporter visiting the shops found owners from Nigeria, Mali, South Korea, India, Mexico, Lebanon and Jerusalem.

Traffic may be the saving grace for West Florissant Avenue, a busy four-lane street. Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones says 31,000 vehicles per day pass through the West Florissant and Chambers Road intersection. “Who wouldn’t want to be on a corner like that?” he asks.

Insurance agent William Bates appreciates the traffic light outside the one-time doughnut stand that now houses Just Insurance near that corner.

“When the light turns red, the traffic backs up, and people look around and they say, ‘Oh, there’s an insurance office.’” It brings in customers, he said.

His office sits next to the ruin of a small strip shopping center that burned and partially collapsed in the November rampage. The Safe Guard Tax Service hauled a modular office onto the parking lot next to the rubble to do customers’ taxes.

The world knows last year’s troubles by the name of Ferguson, but much of the damage was actually across the city line in Dellwood. Jones, the mayor, has become the area’s biggest cheerleader.

“I see some good signs,” Jones said, noting the Royal Furniture opening and plans for a new urgent care medical center on West Florissant.

“As far as I know, all business in Dellwood is coming back to rebuild,” he said.

SOME WON’T REBUILD

That’s not quite the case. The chain stores on West Florissant are showing reluctance.

The McDonald’s in Ferguson reopened quickly. But Advance Auto Parts has decided not to rebuild its burned-out store in Dellwood. AutoZone said it hasn’t made a decision, and O’Reilly’s Auto Parts wouldn’t comment.

QuikTrip, whose fire-demolished store became the favorite backdrop for TV news reports, hasn’t decided if it will rebuild.

Rioters threw a burning tire into the Original Red’s BBQ in Ferguson and set the building on fire. The restaurant owner gave up and won’t reopen, said Jay Kanzler, who represents the building’s landlord.

But the landlord plans to repair the building and find another tenant, Kanzler said.

Kanzler thinks Ferguson and Dellwood need a major recovery plan, merging public and private investment.

“If each business is left to its own efforts, if we have piecemeal recovery, the chances are much less,” he said. “The stigma of what happened, the fear of what the future entails, are too much to overcome.”

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger last week announced a $500,000 program to tear down 18 burned buildings and beautify the sites using money from the St. Louis County Port Authority.

“We think that’s going to have a very positive impact on the business climate. It’s going to attract new customers,” said Rodney Crim, president of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the city-county business support agency.

Crim says that some Ferguson and Dellwood businesses have insurance policies that exclude riot damage. Insurance industry officials say that most standard small-business policies do cover rioting.

About 60 local businesses received $600,000 in zero-interest loans from a program set up by the county, local banks and the St. Louis Regional Chamber. Businesses and local school districts received $300,000 in grants through a charity set up by North County Incorporated, a regional development group, and the Regional Business Council.

Lee’s Beauty World, on South Florissant Road near the Ferguson police headquarters, was among businesses hit by looters. Sprinklers put out the fire but damaged merchandise and flooded the basement.

“I wouldn’t believe that, in the United States, this was happening,” said owner Su Lee, an immigrant from Korea.

Su Lee and her family worked for two months to repair and restock the store, using money from her insurance policy and $12,000 in donations raised through crowdfunding website GoFundMe.com. The store is to reopen this week, but she worries that her customers may have found other places to shop.

‘THE PERCEPTION THREAT’

Businesses along South Florissant Road, the main road through the historic section of Ferguson, suffered less riot damage than those along West Florissant, but customers are still staying away.

Andy Wurm Tire & Wheel escaped damage, even though it is across from police headquarters, the scene of major protests. The owners never boarded their windows.

But business is down sharply. “Our employees are taking a lot of their loss in lower paychecks,” said Joe Wurm. Overtime is gone, and he has sometimes had to send employees home early.

The problem is fear. “We still have people calling and asking if it’s safe to come,” he said.

That fear exists in neighborhoods that saw no damage at all.

Gary Crump, who runs his family’s Paul’s Market on North Elizabeth Avenue, said business plunged by a third even though his meat market is nearly three miles from most of the burned-out stores.

“It wasn’t the physical violence threat,” he said. “It was the perception threat.”

Many of Paul’s regular customers vanished for months. Crump said they began drifting back shortly before Christmas.

“I don’t want to say we’re getting back to a new normal, but I’m seeing more people who came in before and are now coming in again,” he said.

Last fall, Crump held off on replacing the store’s 37-year-old meat cases. He’s now going ahead with that $40,000 project to buy new cases and make other improvements.

“I’m looking through the windshield,” he said. “I’m not looking at the rear-view mirror.”

Jeff Eisenberg, whose Clayton-based company manages and acts as a broker of strip centers and standalone stores —many of them in North County — said most business owners affected by the turmoil in Ferguson plan to stay put.

“Everyone really kinds of wants to stay and rebuild,” said Eisenberg, adding that the public’s fear of venturing to West Florissant is fading.

He is working to revive Springwood Plaza, a nearly vacant shopping center on West Florissant, in Dellwood.

“We’re working two pretty good deals,” said Eisenberg, adding that a regional and a national retailer are looking at the site.

Springwood might also provide temporary locations for burned-out Ferguson businesses while they rebuild in their traditional locations.

Map labels table

Field 1 Field 2 Field 3 Field 4
Num Address Name Status
1 10132 West Florissant Royal Furniture Renovated store opened in December.
2 110 South Florissant Lee's Beauty World Reopening
3 9947 West Florissant AutoZone Building demolished, rubble removed. No decision on rebuilding.
4 9846 West Florissant Advance Auto Won't rebuild.
5 9101 West Florissant Ferguson Market & Liquor Open and operating now.
6 200 North Florissant St. Louis Fish and Chicken Open and operating now.
7 220 North Florissant Little Caesars Ferguson officials say the owner intends to rebuild.
8 10741 West Florissant Walmart Open and operating now.
9 10809 New Halls Ferry Family Dollar Owner is expected to seek a demolition permit.
10 9161-3 West Florissant J.C. Wireless, Beauty Town Demolition permits expected soon.
11 9181 West Florissant Yellow Diamond Boutique Open and operating now.
12 9183 West Florissant Clip Appeal Open and operating now.
13 9291 West Florissant Public Storage Demolition permit issued in late December. Public Storage is currently open and operating out of a temporary office facility on site, city officials say.
14 9300 West Florissant Original Reds BBQ The owner won't reopen Reds, but the landlord plans repairs and to seek a new tenant.
15 9420 West Florissant QuikTrip Demolition is underway but QT has not said if it will rebuild.
16 9131 West Florissant McDonald's Open and operating now.
17 9241 West Florissant Sam's Meat Market Repairs are being made and the business will re-open.
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Tim Bryant is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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