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Ferguson Business Owners Left Asking Questions

Businesses along South Florissant Road continued to board up windows Tuesday afternoon.
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Business owners in Ferguson are asking why the Missouri National Guard didn’t do more to protect their property Monday night.

The Little Caesars on South Florissant Road.
Credit Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio
The Little Caesars on South Florissant Road.

At least a dozen small businesses along West Florissant Avenue and South Florissant Road were looted and set on fire within hours of the grand jury’s announcement. That includes Sam’s Meat Market, the store that served as a backdrop for press conference last week where business owners pleaded for peaceful protests.

Attorney Jay Kanzler represents Sam's Meat Market owner, Mohammed Yaacoup, and three other business owners along West Florissant Avenue.

"We were told in meetings by the Justice Department and through other people that there was a plan, that we would not be abandoned this time, that people would not be able to destroy property," Kanzler said.

He said Sam’s Meat Market was looted then set on fire from the inside. He said the cinder block building is still standing, but the inside is likely a total loss.

Kaye Mershon, the owner of the nearby barbershop Clip Appeal, said she has residents to thank for saving her shop. After someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the shop, some of her customers put the fire out. Mershon said she got there around 10 p.m.

"We were told all of that policing was going to take place," Mershon said. "But when I arrived they were standing out here. No one was doing anything; they weren’t policing."

On South Florissant Road in the old historic district, Jerome and Cathy Jenkins also had residents to thank for protecting one of their businesses.

Workers and volunteers help put up plywood over Jerome and Cathy Jenkins' not-yet-open bar on South Florissant Road.
Credit Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio
Workers and volunteers help put up plywood over Jerome and Cathy Jenkins' not-yet-open bar on South Florissant Road.

"Some wonderful, wonderful customers that were protesting stood in front of Cathy’s Kitchen and locked arms and protected that place, so we only have one window broken," Jerome Jenkins said.

Jenkins didn't have much praise about Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

"He has disappointed us all -- white and black -- because he promised us protection," Jenkins said. "What he needs to do, because we all voted for him, is to stand up, take accountability for the things the world has seen on TV, because it’s an embarrassment, and do a better job of protecting the city of Ferguson."

Further north along South Florissant Road, the burned-out Little Caesar’s Pizza still smelled of smoke Tuesday afternoon. Owner Doyle Beck said he rebuilt the restaurant after it was destroyed by a tornado three years ago and plans to do the same this time.

As for whether there should have been more police protection, Beck paused and spoke carefully.

"I’ve decided I’m not going to tell people how to do their jobs, and they don’t tell me how to do my job," he said.

Customers streamed into the I Love Ferguson store on South Florissant all day Tuesday to buy mugs, T-shirts and sweatshirts to show their support for the city and for the businesses that had been looted and burned. Proceeds from the souvenir sales go to the nonprofit Reinvest North County, which is assisting businesses damaged in the protests. 

Volunteers at the store expressed disappointment that the National Guard had not taken an active role in quelling the violence on Monday.

“They weren’t here last night . They didn’t stop anything from happening. They didn’t save our businesses. And that’s what they promised to do,’’ said Sandy Sansevere, a lifelong resident of north St. Louis County.

Brian Fletcher, chairman of the I Love Ferguson committee, said that residents “don’t know if we can trust anybody anymore.’’ He added a plea, “Governor, if you’re worth anything, please provide the National Guard for us tonight and the rest of the nights to come.’’

Mary Delach Leonard contributed to this report.

Earlier reporting:

In Ferguson

Some who showed up for work in Ferguson found smoldering rubble instead of shops. About a dozen businesses had been burned over night.

Mayor James Knowles strongly criticized the governor and law enforcement for not acting more quickly and with greater force. "We are asking the governor to deploy all necessary resources to prevent the further destruction of property and preservation of life in the city of Ferguson."

Read "Ferguson Smolders On Morning After Grand Jury Decision."

On South Grand

Shop owners on South Grand Boulevard deal with the aftermath of the demonstration that included a lot of broken glass but no fires.

True to the vibe of the neighborhood, people started painting the plywood that replaced shattered windows.

As Dale Singer reported: “On some window boards was painted the plaintive question: ‘Why? We need our jobs.’”

The 20-or so businesses that sustained damages Monday night can get help through a fund set up to help Ferguson businesses.

The read more about the business district and shop owners, see “Windows, Boards, Resilience Line South Grand."

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.