For one Black-owned business in Chicago, looters hit harder than the pandemic

Shatira Wilks entered her edible arrangements store on June 3rd.
Aisha Jefferson
Shatira Wilks says her edible arrangement business in Jeffrey Manor, South Side Chicago, was "only destroyed" by looters.
Her computers, cash drawer, tools, and fruit and chocolate inventory were all taken.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has announced the Together Now fund to help small businesses recover. However, Wilks is not authorized as a franchisee.
Like other companies in the neighborhood, Wilks says she is not sure whether she will reopen. "To go inside and feel like you have to rebuild ... it has to make sense," she told Insider.
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When Shatira Wilks looked at her edible arrangement franchise, she was incredulous.
The store she opened in Jeffrey Manor, South Side Chicago two years ago, had been ransacked when demonstrators marched through the city on the last weekend in May.
"When I pulled up and saw it, I couldn't believe it. I didn't know if I was going to cry," Wilks told Insider. "I had all kinds of anger. And then I was angry too."
Anger quickly turned to worry when Wilks, who had heard of confrontations between looters and local shopkeepers, wondered if anyone was still inside.
Carefully she entered the shop through a broken window, being careful not to cut herself with the broken glass over her head.
No one was inside, but the store was destroyed.
Broken glass from the front windows of the shop lies on the floor.
Shatira Wilks
Broken glass and pieces from broken containers were scattered across the floor. A cooler that was once filled with elaborate fruit exhibitions was emptied. Her computers, cash drawers and tools - even her fruit and chocolate inventory - were gone.
"You just destroyed it ... I mean, it's crazy," Wilks told Insider.
She isn't sure when it was hit, but neighboring business owners told her it could have been May 31 or the morning after.
According to WTTW, the Chicago police arrested more than 1,200 people this weekend, more than half of them related to looting and property destruction, police commissioner David Brown said.
Wilks' store is in the 95th and Jeffrey Shopping Centers, the same mall where a dollar tree was destroyed by fire on June 1st.
Almost every business on the strip had been looted or devastated.
Some, like Wilks', are owned by the black.
She entered her shop two days after the fire. "I don't know if this [looting] will happen again," said Wilks, "because they got away so easily."
Chicago has a history of racial struggles, including the police deaths of Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones.
Wilks grew up in Roseland on the Far South Side, where Barack Obama started as a community organizer. She believes the protests are "necessary" after George Floyd's murder.
Shatira Wilks, sole owner of an edible arrangement on the South Side of Chicago.
Shatira Wilks
"As an African American, I totally agree," she said to Insider. "But I think they have lost much of the rationalization and why it exists when people come in and tear up and destroy the businesses that have served us in the same communities."
Her problem, she says, is that George Floyd's legacy is now more about looting and property damage than anything else.
"You will think of all the businesses that were destroyed before you think about the purpose of the protests," said Wilks. "You'll think about how many companies have closed and how many people have been devastated and injured before you think about the protests."
While the corridor on East 95th Street is not a food or retail desert, companies have been reluctant to move there due to the high crime rate.
After the volatile weekend, the Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, vehemently denied that the police had been used disproportionately to protect more affluent downtown areas at the expense of the poorer south and west sides.
The pandemic had already hit many businesses in the region. Some that were not considered essential were closed for more than two months.
Wilks' edible arrangement franchise was actually considered essential and remained open during the ban. It received customers from other locations that chose to close, and actually saw a 10% increase in sales.
Other south side stores will have a harder time, if any.
"Many people who emerged from the pandemic were simply not prepared for the kind of economic success that vandalism and looting caused," said Wilks.
Many companies along the main roads of the South Side are still boarded up.
"You have already considered closing," said Wilks. "Now there are a lot of owners who say they won't even open again."
Lightfoot has vowed to help small businesses, including those in mostly black communities. On June 5, she launched the city-sponsored Together Now fund with an initial investment of $ 10 million.
Now up to $ 15 million, it is said to help local businesses recover.
The city received applications on Saturday and, according to Samir Mayekar, deputy mayor for economic development, more than 2,500 companies are expected to benefit.

To qualify, a company must have fewer than 100 employees at one location.

Mayekar said his office was considering "the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 and the damage on the weekend of May 29 and beyond to companies in the south and west side and will grant grants accordingly."
However, Wilks is not authorized to operate a chain franchise.
Shatira Wilks and her staff.
Shatira Wilks
She wonders if, given the economic inequality that has long existed in Chicago, the grants will really be accessible to black-owned companies on the south and west sides.
"I don't have to rely on them to do it," she said. "If not, I didn't expect it anyway."
Alderman Greg Mitchell represents the 7th division in which the edible arrangements are located.
He is still waiting for details on the distribution of the Together Now Fund, but says he has met with the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus to develop recommendations that "steer administration in a direction that will financially benefit our communities helps ".
Much of the destruction on the south side, Mitchell said, has nothing to do with the protests and everything to do with opportunists who want to loot and destroy.
"I heard the mayor say it was calculated, it was planned," he said. "And that they got away with it and then other people just joined in."
Mitchell says he saw vehicles with non-governmental signs looted in his district.
He believes that shopkeepers' reluctance to return will diminish over time as long as officials show that they are serious about preventing more vandalism and responding better if this happens.
Wilks said it was a dream come true to be a sole proprietor of a company with three employees. Nevertheless, she is not sure whether she will reopen the shop.
It will remain closed for repair work for at least a few weeks.
"I'm thinking about the value of keeping it open," she said. "To go in and have the feeling that you have to rebuild ... it has to make sense."
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