In Ferguson, businesses look tentatively at rebuilding

FERGUSON, Mo. (USA TODAY) -- Natalie DuBose has spent a lot of time crying, baking and rejoicing over the last couple of days.

She has shed tears of anger and hurt over vandals throwing a chair through the window of her fledgling business, Natalie's Cakes and More, along Ferguson's downtown strip. Unrest exploded here following Monday's announcement that a grand jury would not indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown.

And she has kept baking, because she has too many Thanksgiving orders to do anything else. In the midst of it all, DuBose was given a boost of faith after a couple of fans helped start GoFundMe pages that raised tens of thousands of dollars to help her business recover.

"I am so humbly blessed!" DuBose wrote on one of the pages.

Even before the donations started rolling in, DuBose was certain about one thing: She's not leaving Ferguson.

"I'm not going anywhere," said DuBose, 32, who is African American and opened her bakery just a couple of months before a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen and turned this town into a tinder box. "I've invested everything I got into this place. There's no way that I'm leaving."

DuBose is just one of many business owners in this suburb of St. Louis and surrounding communities who saw their businesses damaged or destroyed in looting and vandalism following the announcement that a criminal indictment against Wilson wasn't forthcoming.

At least a dozen businesses were set ablaze and many others were looted on Monday night and early Tuesday morning after the grand jury's decision was announced. While protesters and police clashed again on Tuesday night, businesses were mostly spared.

Repairing the physical damage done to this city of about 20,000 will be a long and onerous project. And making this community, which is now littered with detritus of burned-out structures and boarded-up buildings, whole again looks like an overwhelming task.

See Also: How will Ferguson rebound? Look at South St. Pete

Police reported that businesses, including a Little Caesars pizza restaurant, a self-storage facility, a meat market and beauty shops, were among those looted and ravaged by fire amid the violent protests.

Baek Lee saw his shop, Beauty World, ravaged by looters and set partially on fire. Lee said he would like to reopen, but he said he's uncertain if it will be possible.

Before the unrest, he considered boarding up his shop to prevent such an incident, as many other businesses in Ferguson have since regular protests began in August after Brown's killing. But he opted not to when he was given a $4,000 quote to board up just the front of his shop.

Now it could cost him much more.

"They [the looters] stole the expensive items that were at the back of the store, the things in front are ruined by the sprinklers, and a lot of the rest is ruined by smoke," said Lee, who toiled for years working at a dry-cleaning business to save up enough money to buy his shop. "I don't know what to do now."

Down the street from Lee's shop, workers at the Little Caesars tossed raw dough into a dumpster and tried to salvage whatever kitchen equipment they could, a last act before they would become unemployed.

Justin Beck, whose father owns the Little Caesars, said that his family and employees received threats in the months since Brown was killed and Ferguson became a touchstone about broader issues of the treatment of African Americans by law enforcement and endemic poverty.

While the threats were unsettling, Beck said that his family decided to not pay them any heed. Even now, he said his family is determined to reopen in Ferguson.

"The best thing you can do is not run from all the bad things that happen in your life," Beck said. "At some point, you know what, you got to stand up for what's right. And the right thing to do is not to run."

As the business owners have taken stock of whether to rebuild, there have been plenty of area residents who have tried to come to their aid.

Outside of Lee's beauty shop on Tuesday, a half dozen African-American customers came by to offer their condolences and prayed the family would quickly get back on their feet. At DuBose's bakery, new customers have been stopping by her shop to give her encouragement, in addition to the hundreds of people around the country who have donated to her recovery through the GoFundMe page.

"I knew the power of social media, but I was surprised how far this has gone," said David Swingle, who created one of the pages to help DuBose.

And area residents such as Martin Skull, 59, have collected items pilfered by looters and left on the streets and returned them to the businesses to which they belong.

"The way we build Ferguson back up is through unity," said Cynthia Smith, a Ferguson resident who came by Lee's beauty shop to offer him support. "We have to stay strong and be here for these people."


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