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Businesses vow to rebuild after blow to Baltimore's economy

Businesses vow to rebuild after blow to Baltimore's economy
One resident looks up at the E-Z Mart Tobacco & Convenience store at North and Fulton avenues while volunteers pause to cross the street, ready to clean up in the area following a night of rioting and looting. (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron)

Businesses from Mondawmin Mall to Mount Vernon cleaned up what they could Tuesday after Monday's looting damaged many stores and restaurants across the city.

The extent of the rioting's economic impact may not be known for some time, but some worried it could be significant, affecting everything from lost wages to consumer confidence and tourism.

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"There's nothing in the next 24 hours we can do to spin what happened last night and turn lemons into lemonade," said Michael Gill, Maryland's secretary of business and economic development. "It was really, really sad."

City officials and residents alike decried the violence after several days of largely peaceful protests over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died after being injured in police custody.

What began when teenagers and police faced off Monday afternoon at Mondawmin Mall spilled south to the corner of North and Pennsylvania avenues, where a CVS drug store was looted and then burned. Dozens of businesses from Penn North to Mount Vernon were ransacked after their doors and windows were broken.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake noted that in some cases, the businesses damaged were ones that residents had fought hard to lure, including the Target at Mondawmin.

Target spokesman Evan Lapiska said the chain remains committed to the store, which is credited with helping to revitalize the aging mall. The store wasn't looted but had visible damage to its exterior.

Piles of broken glass and debris lay at every entrance to the mall, and many stores inside were damaged. Rawlings-Blake, who toured the mall Tuesday morning, said looters went after "high-dollar" items and did not hit every store.

The mall "looks like a disaster zone, a war zone," said Jason Fruman, owner of The Great Cookie, as he handed out food to police and state troopers stationed around the mall, as well as employees inside cleaning up.

Vowing to reopen, Fruman said that his cash register and counter were damaged but that it wasn't as bad as at most other stores.

Outside, groups of residents bearing brooms worked to clean up broken glass, rubble and other damage.

Mall spokesman Greg Harris declined to comment Tuesday beyond saying it had assessed the damage.

Along Centre Street in Mount Vernon, businesses were cleaning and boarding up after looters rampaged through the area.

Fernando Roman waited Tuesday for an insurance company representative to inspect the damage to his Ted's Musicians Shop. He was inside the instrument store when a brick smashed through the display window and the door was kicked in. Looters grabbed saxophones and other instruments and emptied the cash register.

"It could have been worse," said Roman, who watched as about 15 youths wrecked his store but left him unharmed.

The window was also kicked in next door at Midtown BBQ and Brew, but owner Tony Harrison said the damage would have been worse if he hadn't been prepared.

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"I sat inside with a shotgun with Sasha, my South African mastiff, waiting to make introductions should anybody venture inside — introductions to the Lord," Harrison said.

While the music store will remain closed for at least a few days, Harrison kept his restaurant open to keep his people working and avoid spoiling food.

Mark Johnson, an assistant finance professor at Loyola University's Sellinger School of Business, said the economy would bounce back unless the riots continue.

"I see lost wages, increased [police] expenditures and people who are afraid to go out," Johnson said.

Many bars and restaurants — and even the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore — opted to close because of the mandatory weeklong curfew of 10 p.m. Some owners complained about the curfew.

"With a curfew, you will do more damage financially to our bars & restaurants than rioters will do," wrote Liam Flynn, owner of Liam Flynn's Ale House on North Avenue in Charles North, in a letter to the mayor.

Nothing matters more than people's safety, said Patrick Russell, owner of the Fells Point bars Kooper's Tavern and Slainte Irish Pub, though he worried about his employees and their bills.

"This is a business for me — it's all replaceable," Russell said.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who took office in January promising to revitalize the state's economy, said he expected the riots to take a toll on tourism.

"This is not the Baltimore that we know and love," Hogan said. "This is certainly not putting us in a very good light. This doesn't help with tourism, this doesn't help with bringing in businesses, but we're going to be stronger after this is over with."

Two conventions scheduled for this week, the American Heart Association and Door and Hardware Institute, were canceled. The hardware convention had been expected to draw 2,000 people to the city, while the heart association was expected to bring another 300.

Orioles games were postponed, as was Mount Vernon's annual FlowerMart, scheduled for this weekend.

Others worried about lost wages and jobs from the burned and looted businesses.

"Their job is gone," said Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore City NAACP. "Somebody's mother or somebody's sister or somebody's brother who worked at these stores, now they're unemployed."

Baltimore Sun reporters Natalie Sherman, Richard Gorelick, Jean Marbella, Wesley Case, Erin Cox, Doug Donovan and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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