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Shop owners' stories show riot damage was widespread

A complete accounting of the financial damage caused during the riots has yet to be finished, but one month later, it's clear that the scope is far wider than was initially suspected.

More than 380 businesses were struck, a mix of national chains and local vendors. The toll included dozens of shops selling phones and other electronics, more than 30 liquor stores, pharmacies and at least seven jewelers, according to a list compiled by the Baltimore Development Corp. Family Dollar saw damage at eight locations, Boost Mobile at 14.

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While many of the businesses were located south of North Avenue in West Baltimore, the list shows smatterings of violence elsewhere. A couple of businesses were damaged on Northern Parkway, for instance, and several on Reisterstown Road and in Brooklyn.

These are some of their stories.

AB Mart, King Grocery

Chudary Bhalli was talking to his mother in Pakistan the night of April 27 when looters made their way to his West Baltimore convenience store for a second time.

Earlier that evening, Bhalli had ordered AB Mart shut after a robbery about 6:30 p.m. He had been monitoring the scene remotely ever since. At the end of the conversation, he turned back to the view from a surveillance camera and was shocked.

"There was a lot of people running inside the store, even old people, young kids, ladies," he said.

Bhalli, who moved to the U.S. in 1991, entered the convenience store business in 1993 after working in a pizza shop. He now owns four in Baltimore, two of which were struck that night — AB Mart on Fayette Street and King Grocery on North Avenue — resulting in what he estimates is more than $50,000 in losses.

Thieves took cigars, cigarettes, baby formula and tampons. They dragged the ATM outside and stole cash. When Bhalli drove to AB Mart that night, he found a small refrigerator used for sodas in the street.

That shop, which he purchased about seven months ago and had yet to insure, was closed for about a week, then restocked with help from a family member.

Bhalli said he made dozens of calls to police that night without a response.

"Government has to do a better job," he said. "A lot of people lost money."

Flawless Damsels

Taylor Alexander has spent the days since the riots attending fundraisers and negotiating with insurers, trying to recover some of what was destroyed by looters that night.

The 23-year-old Baltimore resident took a leap in 2013 when she graduated from college and returned to the city, investing more than $30,000 in savings to expand an online business.

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Sales at the Flawless Damsels clothing boutique on Monument Street were growing with a stream of visitors that included Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Alexander hired one employee and as the business stabilized was starting to branch out, frequenting fashion shows, like one she was scheduled to attend in Atlanta this month.

The riots put an abrupt stop to those plans.

Looters stripped the store of handbags, shoes, clothing, makeup, the cash register, a computer — even the chairs. Alexander, who learned the business had been hit when she saw a photo on the news, estimates she lost $60,000 in inventory alone. The store has been closed since.

"They broke in through the windows and they took everything, from the inventory to the equipment to the fixtures and the furniture," the City College graduate said. "It's really like starting over. The only thing that is left is the paint on the wall."

Alexander said she's experienced the stages of grief — except for anger. The rioters might have had a point, she said.

"Of course I felt like peaceful was better, but history shows us that sometimes, unfortunately, rioting is what gets their attention," she said. "It opened some people's eyes."

Friends established a GoFundMe account and she's planning to tap other public assistance programs. She's still hoping to reopen.

"Getting a job — that just defeats what I started," she said. "I'm just really holding on."

CapitolMac

When his phone rang the night of April 27, Dheeraj Vasishta knew why without needing to know the caller. The Canton resident had closed CapitolMac in Fells Point a few hours earlier and had been following the riots through the media.

"I noticed it's not so far away anymore," he said. "Once I started hearing about incidents closer to the store, that's when I started getting that sinking feeling in my stomach."

A journalist by training and longtime "Apple person," Vasishta bought the Virginia-based CapitolMac business in 2009, opening the Fells Point store a year later. (A third location, in Williamsburg, Va., opened this month.) The store does repairs and sells computers and computer-related accessories.

Electronics made them a target, Vasishta said.

"It's high-value items. It's fairly easy to resell," he said.

Looters hit the store twice, taking a cinder block to the patched-up repairs Vasishta and neighbors made after the first group ran off. He estimated the shop lost between $16,000 and $18,000 in inventory — laptops — in addition to damage to furniture and fixtures. The landlord is handling repairs to the building.

It took a few days for the shop to reopen — with reinforced windows and doors. Business is still down about 50 percent for the month of May, he said.

"We're 90 percent of the way there, but the business has not quite come back to where it was," he said. "I think it's getting there, but we're not quite there yet."

Lakein's Jewelers

Lakein's Jewelers, a family-owned business for more than 100 years, had just redone the historic sign at the Harford Road building where they've been located since 1934. But renovation started anew after looters broke in about 1:30 a.m. on April 28.

Video caught thieves, wearing hoodies and gloves, smashing through the front door and display cases. Customer property and some of the most valuable display items were protected in old-school safes, but the thieves made off with some less expensive goods. Some seemed to be wrecking things just for the heck of it, said Aaron Turnbaugh, the "nonfamily" employee who has worked at the shop, now in its fourth generation of family ownership, for five years.

The business has insurance and isn't sure of the extent of the financial hit. The shop closed for only one day — and, surprisingly, news of the looting has lured some new customers in, Turnbaugh said.

Still, the scars remain, especially because it's a historic store where the modern replacements don't quite work. Replacing the door, for instance, will probably take another month.

"We have been operating, but it's not where we want to be," Turnbaugh said. "We still have a showcase that's just cracked. It doesn't look good."

Cash USA

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Until three years ago, Richard Lewis ran three pawnshops in Baltimore. He sold two. The third he lost April 28, when looters set it on fire.

"It was burned to the ground," he said. "It's beyond reconstructing."

Lewis had operated the 2105 W. Pratt St. shop for about 15 years. The damage, including the loss of the building itself — which is not insured — is more than $350,000, he said.

The city has condemned the building. And Lewis is worried that in addition to the loss of the business, he'll have to pay for demolition — a procedure that often costs more than $10,000 — or face fines. In the meantime, he said, someone could get hurt.

"I'm hoping to get help," he said, adding that he may end up just walking away. "It's not just a cheap thing to do."

The damage was so complete, Lewis said, he can't tell if anything was stolen. He's established a P.O. box at 911 Reisterstown, MD 21136 to handle inquiries from customers.

The protesters had a "legitimate gripe," he said, but those aren't the people who destroyed his business.

"They were criminals that used this as an excuse," he said.

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