June 6, 2020

3 stories of black-owned businesses damaged in the riots

In cities across the country, rioters have taken advantage of peaceful protests, damaging, looting, and destroying local businesses — many of them owned by people of color.

Black business owners face systemic disadvantages in America.

For starters, only 1% of VC-backed startups are headed by black founders, and only 3% of VC investors are black. Prospective black business owners have a harder time securing financing — and when they do get money, it is often a smaller amount with a higher interest rate.

In the wake of COVID-19, the number of operational black-owned businesses has fallen by more than 40%, compared to a 22% drop across all racial groups. These businesses have also disproportionately struggled to secure PPP loans: one nonprofit estimates that 95% of black-owned businesses likely won’t receive an initial loan. 

Now some are facing another hurdle: the physical destruction of their livelihood.

Last week, in many cities across the nation, rioters took advantage of peaceful protests, vandalizing, looting, and — in some cases — completely destroying local businesses.

The Hustle spoke with 3 black entrepreneurs whose businesses were damaged in the chaos. For each story, we’ve included a donation link for anyone who’s interested in helping them rebuild. At the bottom of this story, we’ve also curated a longer list of damaged businesses.

Elliott Broaster (Philadelphia, PA)

 Photo courtesy of Elliott Broaster

At 8, Elliott Broaster was hawking candy to his elementary school schoolmates; by high school, he was buying and reselling designer clothes and sneakers.

While studying entrepreneurship at Temple University in Philadelphia, Broaster started selling Juulpods (e-cigarette cartridges that contain nicotine and flavorants) to make ends meet. Before he knew it, his apartment had become “a mini smoke shop” where students came to hang out and buy supplies.

In 2018, while still a college student, Broaster partnered with his girlfriend’s dad and opened Smokes n’ Things, a premium vape and tobacco shop in North Philly, 5 minutes from the Temple campus.

As the store’s only employee, Broaster juggled his business and schoolwork. Sometimes, he had to put a sign on the door that informed customers he was in class.

Over the past 2 years, Broaster’s business has become much more than a smoke shop.

“We’ve been a local incubator for a lot of kids of color,” he says. “I tell kids who want to start a business to come hang out and learn how to fund a storefront, how to do Shopify, how to sign a lease. I want to teach kids of color that there’s so much more they can do with their life than rapping or playing football.”

But recent events have splintered Boaster’s work: on the night of May 31, his business was looted and destroyed.

“They smashed in the windows, smashed every glass piece we have, took a ton of product, defaced the property,” he says. “Somebody even peed in the middle of the floor.”

For the 23-year-old, the damage is a huge setback: He had plans to pivot into wholesale distribution and take his operation global.

“I put so much time, energy, and headaches into this business. For someone to destroy it in a matter of seconds — that really hurts,” he says. “It’s about more than just capital; it’s emotional trauma.”

For now, Smokes n’ Things is boarded up and temporarily closed. Broaster plans to use donations to rebuild his shop and invest in community reparations.

You can donate to his GoFundMe here.

Eli Aswan (Minneapolis, MN)

Photo courtesy of Eli Aswan

Eli Aswan came to the US from Tanzania in 2002 with the hopes of studying business at The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. When he was rejected, he had to get creative to make ends meet.

“I had no job and little money, and I had to eat,” he told The Hustle. “So, I started selling cars.”

Aswan bought a used car at a local auction for $200 and flipped it a few days later for $700. The next week, he bought another one with his profits. Soon, he’d surpassed the 5 car maximum the state allowed individuals to sell without a dealer license.

He decided to take the next step and lease his own lot — an “extremely expensive” and risky move. For the next 18 years, he worked hard to sell hundreds of used cars and build his lot into a modest small business.

On May 26 — the day after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer — Aswan went to his lot and noticed demonstrators gathering at the police station down the street.

He had a feeling that things would turn sour, so he took the precaution of taking all the keys to his cars home with him. He nervously went to sleep around 1am.

When he arrived at his lot the following morning, he discovered mayhem: His office windows had been smashed in. Two cars were destroyed. And in total, the looters had made off with at least $17k in car titles and equipment.

“They cleaned out everything,” he says. “It’s like they came with a truck. They even took heavy equipment from my repair shop, like an engine hoist. They took everything.”

Aswan boarded up the windows and slept in his office — when looters returned on Friday, he decided it was better not to risk his life.

COVID-19 had already dampened Aswan’s financials. A recent bid to secure financing from a local lender was rejected. Now, the damage and theft provide yet another hurdle for the 50-year-old entrepreneur. 

“It’s really, really sad,” he says. “I relate with the cause. The looting and destruction of businesses have nothing to do with the protests.”

You can donate to his GoFundMe here.

Janice Wilbourn (Atlanta, Georgia)

Photo courtesy of Janice Wilbourn

Janice Wilbourn first learned to sew from her single mother — a “one-woman powerhouse” she calls Queen Mother Elizabeth — in Jackson, Tennessee.

Wilbourn and her 6 sisters took up the entrepreneurial spirit of their matriarch, who instilled in them “good work ethic, morals, esteem, and independence.”

Twenty years ago, Wilbourn and one of her 6 sisters, Janice, relocated to Atlanta — a place she calls “the mecca of the South for black businesses.” There, she opened Wilbourn Sisters Designs, a boutique clothing shop for “women of all sizes, nationalities, and walks of life.”

Their clothing, which she describes as “afrocentric, with an international flair,” quickly became a staple in the local community.

“We’ve had first ladies, ministers, and community celebrities buy clothes from us,” she says. “You come here when you want to stand out from the norm, when you want something special.”

At around 11:30pm on June 1, Wilbourn was behind the counter when rioters threw large rocks at her storefront, shattering the display windows and the door. She dropped to her hands and knees, crawled to the back of the shop, and dialed 9-1-1.

“It was one of the most fearful moments of my life,” she says. 

Wilbourne suspects that a large American flag she had in the window may have incited the destruction. “I just wanted to tell people I was proud of where I’m from,” she says, “but maybe that made us into a target.”

Tony, a maintenance worker at the shop, spent the night sheltering kids from tear gas and calling them Lyfts. “It’s just a constant state of war,” he told The Hustle. “I’m so tired.”

“This is nothing new under the sun,” she said. “I’m praying for every business out there. All of our lives matter, but black lives matter, too. We’ve been through a lot as black business owners. Hopefully, some change will come from this.”

Inside the boarded-up shop, Wilbourn wiped the broken glass from her American flag and hung it back up on the wall.

You can donate to her GoFundMe here.

Chris “Fontayne” Herron’s barbershop was destroyed after being set ablaze by rioters  in Long Beach, CA (via Fontayne Herron / Facebook)

These are just 3 of the many black-owned businesses that were affected by riots last week. Below, we’ve compiled a list of other GoFundMe campaigns you might consider donating to.

Individual black-owned businesses

General city-wide campaigns for black-owned businesses

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