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Business, civic leaders decry unrest in Ferguson

Business, civic leaders decry unrest in Ferguson

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Some St. Louis business leaders are denouncing violence and police actions in Ferguson following the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown last Saturday.

Among the most vocal online was Maxine Clark, founder and retired CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop, the Overland-based chain of 400 retail stores.

On Wednesday night, after two national reporters covering the Ferguson story were arrested while inside a McDonald’s, Clark tweeted to her nearly 6,000 followers: “REALLY???? Arresting visitors/news at McD?? This is not the STL I know and love. Stop! This behavior is absurd and unnecessary.”

Clark’s other tweets, shared on her @ChiefExecBear account, decried the worldwide spotlight now on the region: “Three conf. calls today & everyone asked ‘what is going on in STL?’ These aren’t proud moments. Someone tell Ferg Police honesty matters!” Clark could not be reached for comment for this story.

Joe Reagan, president and chief executive of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, agreed Thursday that the arrests were a mistake.

“The business community is clear that arresting journalists and those observing the protests is unacceptable,” he said. “We can do much better than that. We are much better than that.”

Chris Sommers, owner of the Pi Pizzeria chain in St. Louis, also has been active on social media throughout the week, mostly retweeting news accounts of the unfolding events in Ferguson on his Twitter account, @sommerscm, to his more than 800 followers.

Sommers said the protests following Brown’s death have been mishandled by authorities.

“It’s devastating to our town,” said Sommers, who’s opened six Pi restaurants in the region since 2008. “Many of us have been working really hard to build our city back up, and the St. Louis County and Ferguson police are undoing that in a manner of days.”

Sommers has two new Pi restaurants opening in Miami and Cincinnati, and said the current unrest here and the attention it’s garnering worldwide will have a negative impact on the region’s economy for a long time.

“It’s going to suffer,” Sommers said. “I’m grateful that our immediate expansion is not in the St. Louis area. I would certainly think twice about an investment here now. What’s infuriating is a lack of leadership, and the result of that is a devastation to the economy.”

Photos and videos of people looting businesses and other lawlessness in the wake of Brown’s death have reached an international audience.

Kitty Ratcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, said some potential visitors to St. Louis have asked how the unrest in Ferguson is affecting the region and individual attractions.

“We have assured those potential visitors that hotels, visitor attractions, restaurants, parks, transportation companies and other components to the tourism infrastructure in our region are not affected by the encounters between concerned individuals and the police department in Ferguson,” Ratcliffe said in an email Thursday.

Referring to the shooting death of Michael Brown, she said, “It is important to note that this tragic incident is not reflective of the community as a whole.”

Many employees in the region’s tourism industry live in the Ferguson area and are more “affected by this tragedy than the rest of us,” Ratcliffe’s email continued. “Support for the businesses and the citizens of that portion of our metropolitan area is needed more than ever at this time.”

Reagan said he backed Gov. Jay Nixon’s decision Thursday to change the leadership of the police response to the unrest in Ferguson. Reagan said the change should produce “an environment where peaceful protests may happen.”

Nixon ordered the Missouri Highway Patrol to take over as the lead police agency dealing with the unrest in Ferguson.

Reagan said that key to the response is keeping the focus “on the tragic loss of a young man’s life.”

“What’s also tragic is the breakdown and the lack of confidence that people have about how the situation has been handled over the past few nights,” he said.

Reagan said that no company considering investing in St. Louis has wavered as a result of the violence in Ferguson.

He also said he was unaware of business leaders, other than Clark, who have publicly expressed outrage over the arrest of the reporters.

Arrested but not charged were a reporter for the Washington Post and a reporter for the Huffington Post.

Lisa Brown is a business reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @LisaBrownSTL and the Business section @postdispatchbiz.

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