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Delaware riots could have ripple effect on reopening plans

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Rioters smashed into the Walgreens on Market Street, forcing the pharmacy to close. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Protests spurred by the killing of an unarmed black Minnesota man during an arrest by police deteriorated into rioting and looting in downtown Wilmington and the Dover Mall over the weekend, forcing retailers and restaurateurs to reassess their plans amid the economy’s reopening in Delaware that began in earnest Monday.

On Saturday, demonstrators in Wilmington began peacefully with a protest in Rodney Square and later shut down Interstate 95 in the city, but the situation began spiraling near Market Street as the evening wore on. Rioters smashed windows at Bardea Food & Drink, La Fia Bistro, A.R. Morris Jewelers, Starbucks, Citizens Bank, Walgreens, and many more. They smashed their way into Al’s Sporting Goods, virtually cleaning the store out of merchandise, while also breaking into Merchant Bar and stealing liquor.

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki looks into a cleared out A.R. Morris Jewelers after the retailer moved his inventory following Saturday’s looting. | Photo by Moonloop Photography

On Sunday, similar demonstrations in Dover in front of Legislative Hall and the Delaware State Police Headquarters ended in a march down U.S. Route 13 to the Dover Mall. There rioters smashed into the Forever 21 and Cricket Wireless stores, stealing some merchandise.

The destruction led the state’s mall owners to reconsider their plans for reopening amid loosened Phase 1 restrictions. The owner of the Christiana Mall, Brookfield Properties, indefinitely postponed its plans to reopen and stopped its curbside pickup program. The Concord Mall was scheduled to reopen Tuesday with fewer hours while the Dover Mall reopened Monday despite the damage.

While protesters and police walked the streets of Dover on Sunday, staff and good Samaritans cleaned up downtown Wilmington and boarded up the broken windows. On Monday, Market Street was eerily quiet, with police officers still cordoning off the streets although none of the affected businesses were open.

Bryan and Andrea Sikora, owners of La Fia Bistro and Merchant Bar located at 5th and Market streets, said they still planned to open La Fia this weekend despite the damage, but Merchant Bar won’t reopen until all restrictions are lifted.

“I think it’s going to be a long time before we break even,” she said.

A block away, Bardea Food & Drink owner Scott Stein said he and his team are doing everything in their power to open the doors for sit-down dining on Wednesday, June 3, but he’s waiting for guidance from Gov. John Carney, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, and Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy, who Stein said have done a great job of stabilizing the situation.

“We had seen a glimpse of hope, a light at the end of tunnel,” he said. “There was energy in our restaurant on Saturday night, something in the air, We’ve missed the ‘noise’ of people eating dinner and talking but our employees were excited. We had 100 families who had ordered takeout for Saturday night. We participated in the first round of the peaceful protests because we believe in the cause, with police walking with protesters. Then the vandals arrived, a few well-organized bad people.”

Bob Hart, owner of Al’s Sporting Goods at the corner of Market and 2nd streets, spent the day trying to find matching pairs of hundreds of sneakers strewn about his storage room by looters in a rush.

“It’s probably going to take another four or five days to get a sense of the damage. We had about 25,000 pairs of shoes in the back, and anything that’s left is on the floor,” he said.

Al’s Sporting Goods on Market Street was broken into and looted, with the owner reporting that about 75% of its clothing and shoes were stolen May 30. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Hart estimated that 75% of his clothing and shoes were stolen, which amounts to a loss upward of $400,000. While that loss should be covered by his business insurance, Hart said that restocking it with inventory may be delayed due to the industry’s purchase cycle.

“Footwear is typically bought six months in advance,” he explained, noting much of his stolen inventory should have last until as late as Christmas.

Manufacturers have also been producing fewer goods amid the COVID-19 pandemic as retailers in the United States and worldwide closed to stem the virus’s spread. That resulted in decreased inventory for manufacturers that build their own stock and delays for those that only produce at purchase-order levels, which is now leading to delays at the retail level.

“When we closed [amid the state-mandated shutdown], Nike stopped shipping us shoes, which was good at the time because it meant fewer bills,” Hart said. “But now we’re having a hard time [getting goods] and they’re saying that they’re not running at full pace.”

Prior to the destruction, Hart said that Al’s had been doing very good business through its curbside and appointment business. Its sporting goods sales have struggled though as youth and recreational sports leagues have been postponed or canceled.

When asked whether the looting gave him any pause about reopening the store at all, Hart said no.

“We’ll definitely be back,” he said. “But I have given some thought to moving out of the city.”

Hart estimated that he’s worked 60 to 70 hours a week for more than 40 years and started working in the store 52 years ago with his late father, who worked there for 78 years. The Hart family has been a part of the retail shop that stretches its history in the city back to 1935.

“We work hard to get what we have and then within three hours they destroy the place,” he said. “It hurts a lot.”

By Jacob Owens, Peter Osborne & Meg Ryan

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