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South Grand businesses rebuild

Tyson Rinderknecht paints boards covering Rooster cafe's broken windows on Nov. 25, 2014. Demonstrators broke windows up and down South Grand Boulevard after a St. Louis County grand jury did not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. 

Even though Monday was the night for a closely watched announcement that stirred anxiety for weeks, Ray Weber wasn’t worried.

On Tuesday afternoon Weber, an employee at A.J. & R. Pawn Shop, no longer had a view of the bustling South Grand Boulevard business district. Boards had replaced seven destroyed windows. The smell of tear gas that wafted inside Monday night lingered.

“We had heard there was going to be protests down in the Shaw area,” Weber said. “We weren’t worried. Silly us.”

Protests turned destructive on South Grand on Monday night in the wake of a St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in August. Windows were broken up and down the street, and others were boarded up in anticipation of further unrest.

“When I closed last night, I wasn’t worried about it,” said Beth Styles on Tuesday. She owns vintage clothing store Parsimonia.

By Tuesday morning, a window was broken and glass covered her store’s floor. A friend nearby had patched it up with cardboard and duct tape. “I just hope it’s a peaceful night tonight,” Styles said. “That’s all you can do.”

Still, what is supposed to be a busy shopping week stayed busy for Styles. She attributes it to the area’s strong support for local businesses.

“I did not expect anyone to come and shop today, but the fact that people are making a point to, I’m not surprised,” Styles said. “It’s a really good neighborhood.”

Up and down South Grand, residents, artists and business owners were busy turning a symbol of turmoil into art. A.J. & R. Pawn Shop’s owners asked volunteer artists to paint “Peace in St. Louis” on the boards covering seven broken windows. Across the street, a peace symbol replaced the fleur-de-lis on a freshly painted St. Louis flag.

“There’s a tendency for people to kind of take on a sense of fear,” said Salon St. Louis owner Marie McMahon. “We can’t control our situation, but we can control our response to it.”

An outpouring of support crowded sidewalks with pedestrians, some shopping, others helping to clean up and decorate.

“It’s just the complete opposite of what we had (Monday) night,” said Tyson Rinderknecht, who was painting his take on the city’s flag over the boards on the recently opened Rooster café’s windows.

More than 140 artists responded to a call for help decorating the boarded-up windows in the busy business corridor, said South Grand Community Improvement District Executive Director Rachel Witt.

“We’re just letting the artists be creative and create a message of unity and support on South Grand,” she said. “It’s just been amazing and wonderful to see all the residents come out the way they are.”

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Jacob Barker is a business reporter for the Post-Dispatch. 314-340-8291