The looters attacked with crow bars and bolt cutters.
They broke open stores in the Fordham neighborhood of the Bronx until they came to two glass doors side-by-side. The door to the left led to a tattoo parlor, the one to the right to a watch and jewelry store. They smashed the right door and ducked around the sharp glass teeth left along the edges.
Inside, they found a treasure case filled with gold and silver watches and laptop computers. They swung again, sending glass flying. They grabbed what they could fast, missing a couple of watches in the back. Then they reached above and pulled down displays of diamond necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings.
They were long gone by the time the store owner, Francisco Araujo, arrived hours later on Tuesday to find his family business gutted. By his count, he lost $150,000 of merchandise. Only a rack of tacky T-shirts with drinking and sex sayings was left behind.
Mr. Araujo said he was just beginning to get his life back after the coronavirus exploded across New York more than two months ago and businesses like his, which were considered nonessential, were forced to close. He was planning to reopen next week when the state’s stay-at-home order was lifted. Now, he does not know how he can.
“I’m 100 percent with people who are protesting for justice, but is this justice?” Mr. Araujo said. “You’re killing me.”
The looting that erupted in New York during protests over the death of George Floyd has hit many stores, including Macy’s’ flagship store in Herald Square and Nike and Coach stores in Manhattan. But in the Bronx, many of the victims were not brand-name retailers but small businesses owned by immigrants and minorities who were already in free fall from the coronavirus.
The economic fallout has shut down stores, restaurants and businesses, and left thousands of people out of work. The unemployment rate for the Bronx soared to 16.5 percent in April from 4.7 percent in February, compared with 14.6 percent for New York City as a whole.
The protests started out largely peacefully in the Bronx on Monday, but hours later there were reports of arrests, fires and looting.
The looting left a trail of smashed doors and windows, wiped out shelves, and shattered hopes for recovery along the Grand Concourse, one of the Bronx’s signature thoroughfares. It also tore up stores on Fordham Road and Burnside Avenue, two popular shopping corridors. Many of these businesses were already struggling before the looting, with no income coming in to cover their rent and expenses.
“These aren’t large franchise businesses — these are small, mom-and-pop stores that are barely getting by,” said State Assemblyman Victor M. Pichardo, a Democrat, who represents the area. “The looters who came in attempted to destroy a very important and vital part of the Bronx.”
Mr. Pichardo said he saw the damage for himself on Burnside Avenue early Tuesday morning. “Burnside was a war zone,” he said. “There was trash everywhere. Fires were just put out. Businesses had been raided.”
He headed over to Fordham Road. It was bad, too.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president, and other Bronx officials, community leaders and residents gathered at a noisy intersection on Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse to condemn the looting and call for peaceful protests. Many of them helped sweep up debris and consoled business owners. Nearby, Black Lives Matter demonstrators handed out food and water.
“What happened was a direct assault on what we’re trying to accomplish,” Mr. Diaz said. “What happened last night was not a protest. What happened was criminal.”
The prior night’s mayhem and looting brought out a heavy police presence across the city on Tuesday night, and some store owners posted security guards out front, or in some case, hunkered down inside themselves for a long night of keeping watch.
It turned out to be mostly quiet in the Bronx, though there were reports of a few break-ins there and in other parts of the city. But it was too late for the stores and businesses that had already been wiped out on Monday night.
The looters helped themselves to jewelry, sneakers and designer clothing. At bodegas and pharmacies, they made off with lottery tickets, sodas, candy and toilet paper, among many other items.
At Good Life Pharmacy, the looters punched holes in the front door and window. The owner, George Yirenkyi, was home when it happened but rushed over when he saw the looters on the store’s security camera. “We just couldn’t stop them,” said Mr. Yirenkyi, 58, an immigrant from Ghana.
He opened the pharmacy eight years ago and has 10 workers, all of whom live in the Bronx. “I can’t describe it — all your investment, all the years you’ve invested in it,” he said. “You think about all your employees, and now there’s no work.”
A few doors over, Ten Chen, 39, cried as he recounted how his liquor store was ransacked. An employee hid in the bathroom and called him at home. Mr. Chen called 911, but he said it took too long to get through. The store’s security camera caught dozens of people drinking and smashing bottles, ripping down shelves and grabbing money from the register.
“They go inside and take anything they want,” said Mr. Chen, an immigrant from China. “They broke everything.”
Another business owner, Stephen Mensah, said the looters trashed the pharmacy he opened three years ago, shattering his dream for a better life along with the display cases. “You work toward your goals,” said Mr. Mensah, 57, who immigrated from Ghana in 1988. “We thought we were getting there.”
In the Fordham and Morris Heights neighborhoods in the West Bronx, there were sheets of plywood where window displays should have been. Doors were broken. Piles of sharp glass were scattered on sidewalks and streets.
Store owners and workers picked through what was left of their businesses, like shellshocked survivors returning to inspect the damage after a tornado.
Some owners said they had allowed their business insurance to lapse during the shutdown, while other owners said they had insurance but were unsure whether the looting would be covered.
Geraldine White, 64, a Bronx resident, walked up to a hair braiding shop with plywood over the window. She taped up a handwritten sign: “Black Lives Matter But Please Don’t Loot.” Next to it, someone else had put up a photograph of George Floyd.
“I’m sticking it here to ask people, please don’t loot. It doesn’t make any sense,” Ms. White said. “You should demonstrate for the right reasons.”
Mr. Araujo, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, said he has to reopen his watch and jewelry store, Cibao Multiservices, to support his five children and eight employees. But he did not yet know where to start.
“We have to fix the store and we’re not making money,” said Mr. Araujo, 45, as he paced back and forth, a cigar in hand.
Shattered glass carpeted the store floor, making a crunching sound like gravel when walked on. Outside, a contractor was sawing a plywood plank.
Mr. Araujo said he was appalled by the police brutality that had ignited the protests in New York and around the world. And he supported the protests but not the looting that followed.
“Black lives matter, all lives matter, but what about my life, my family’s life?” he asked. “My family’s life matters. You cannot justify doing something wrong because something wrong happened.”
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