When Greg Milefsky temporarily closed his bicycle shop in downtown Richmond in March, he did so amid concerns over the coronavirus pandemic that caused other businesses around the region and the country to shutter.
After a couple weeks, as he saw other bike shops continue operating, Milefsky reopened his Balance Bicycle Shop at 904 W. Broad St., and saw business spike at a time when the virus was spurring people to get back on a bike for some outdoor exercise.
But then demonstrations in Richmond sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis turned destructive. Looters broke into his store during the overnight hours between May 30 and May 31.
They stole 70 to 80 bikes that had been in the shop, he said. The stolen bicycles included his own inventory that he had planned to sell and dozens owned by customers.
“And then I’m out of a job. I have no income,” Milefsky said during an interview at his store where a row of bike hooks along the wall were bare. “So insurance is going to cover some of that, but realistically I couldn’t even reopen this year.”
Other business owners interviewed along Broad Street in downtown Richmond recently said they were wrestling with the challenges of how to eke out a living during a pandemic, a historic economic downturn as well as incidents of vandalism from burglars who took advantage of the protests against police brutality that have taken place in Richmond and across the country.
Some businesses had reopened in recent weeks along Broad Street, although many storefronts late last week continued to be covered by plywood upon which people have spray painted “Black Lives Matter” and “George Floyd” as well as other messages in support of the protests.
At the Balance Bicycle Shop, Milefsky is weighing his options, saying that perhaps one day he might open a bike store somewhere else, although he didn’t have any timeline on when that could happen. He added that he might instead become an investor in another bike shop.
A pressing issue on his mind was using proceeds from a GoFundMe campaign that had raised $42,500 as of Tuesday afternoon to help pay back dozens of customers whose bikes had been stolen during the break-in.
Ashley Carruthers, owner of the Rosewood Clothing Co., reopened her store at 16 W. Broad St., on Thursday. In recent weeks, she wanted the shop to be boarded up in order to show solidarity with the protesters.
“We were totally fine, but we decided to board up just to stand with the neighborhood,” Carruthers said. “I think it just shows that we’re not doing business right now. This is more important.”
Rosewood Clothing had been closed initially spurred by the onset of the coronavirus concerns in March. Although the store has been closed to customers, the business has shifted some sales to the internet, she said.
“Online [sales] have been decent, nowhere near our normal numbers,” Carruthers said.
At It’s a Man’s World consignment store at 100 W. Broad St., owner Susan Youngs said her store’s business is suffering as the customers she relies on also are suffering from the economic downturn.
For example, younger employees at local restaurants are no longer heading to her store to buy clothing they need for jobs that have temporarily vanished, she said.
“No one needs clothing. No one is working in food service,” Youngs said.
At Waller & Co. Jewelers at 19 E. Broad St., Richard A. Waller Jr. said that the store has been busy in the weeks after vandals broke in and shattered a half-dozen glass display cases, taking merchandise such as watches and jewelry.
Waller, an 82-year-old watchmaker, recalled how one of the vandals ran past him in the early morning hours of May 31 after he opened the front door.
“It was terrible, but I got myself together, and I prayed for them [the burglars], and I asked God to forgive them,” said Waller, the grandson of the store’s founder who opened the business in 1900. “Everything I had can be replaced — everything but my life.”
Just hours after the break-in, Waller said about 70 people from sororities and fraternities at local colleges showed up to the store on the morning of May 31 to help clean up.
“It was like unbelievable,” Waller said. “It ended up being a great day instead of being a real sad day.”
Waller & Co. Jewelers also has received financial help. A GoFundMe drive raised nearly $52,000 as of Tuesday afternoon to help the business recover from the break-in. The Virginia 30 Day Fund, which was created in early April to help budding businesses in the state operate during the coronavirus pandemic, gave the company a $3,000 forgivable loan.
Some other GoFundMe campaigns are being conducted to help other businesses in the area vandalized during the unrest.
For instance, the Metropolitan Business League started a GoFundMe campaign to help Richmond Dentistry for Children. The pediatric dentistry business was vandalized, causing damage to the exterior and interior of the business at 300 W. Broad St.
Rumors Boutique, a vintage men’s and women’s clothing store on West Broad Street downtown, also was damaged by looters. The shop set a $30,000 goal and has raised more than $40,100 as of Tuesday afternoon.
In Carytown, dozens of shops were boarded up by June 1 to prevent looting and destruction after three stores were broken into late on May 30 or early on May 31.
The storefronts that were boarded up included all of the tenants in Cary Court Park & Shop.
But many of the stores in Carytown are no longer boarded up — as merchants begin to welcome customers back.
Amanda Slone, president of the Carytown Merchants Association, said that easing COVID-19 restrictions allows people to dine at restaurants and is helping draw consumers back to Carytown, though business remains slow.
“I think that now that people can go and eat at the restaurants, we’re seeing our restaurants coming back, we’re seeing the foot traffic is definitely picking back up,” Slone said.
Tara Wegdam co-owns three stores at Cary Court — apparel shop Zest Clothing & Co., home good store Creme de la Creme, and women’s accessories shop Lou Lou Boutiques — and said customer traffic continues to be slow there.
Small businesses, she said, are facing a very difficult and uncertain time.
“It’s uncertain, but we’re just glad that we’re not sick, and as long as we’re not sick, we will survive because we’re entrepreneurs and that’s what we do,” Wegdam said.