May 29, 2020, was the first night of what would become more than 90 consecutive days of protests in Richmond in response to George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer. Over the weekend, hundreds were arrested after Mayor Levar Stoney enacted an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Multiple businesses and buildings were looted and/or burned. On Broad Street, business owners watched as protesters passed, torn between losing their hard-earned living and a movement they supported.
As told to Times-Dispatch staff writer Ali Rockett:
Kelli Lemon, owner of Urban Hang Suite at 304 E. Broad St.
That Friday night, the 29th, the first night, we were like, “Wow, this is different. Let’s see where this goes.” It wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning that it was no longer about George Floyd.
I stood at the window and thought, “What would Maggie [Walker] do?” She probably lived through a pandemic and racism, they definitely had that.
It took [VCU Police] Chief [John] Venuti walking me to my car saying, “You can’t do any more. You can’t stop anything that happens.” That was Sunday.
I understood it all, but also, I didn’t understand. I couldn’t wrap my head around it all. I was a mess. I had white friends asking how they could support. I had to keep the business running. Keep my employees safe.
We have always been a city in need of repair. George Floyd allowed for the Band-Aid to be ripped off of a huge wound that America has. The nation’s history is so intertwined here and ingrained in Richmond. We now have a better narrative for telling both sides of our history. Both the good and bad.
Alex Zavaleta, owner of Charm School Social Club at 311 W. Broad St.
On Saturday, May 30, I spoke to my business partner. I said, “I don’t think I’m going to go home tonight. We have water and I’ve read some things about what to do if people are hit with pepper spray.” I pulled out my first aid kit.
At first, I was here by myself. Some of my friends rode their bikes down.
Around 9 p.m., people starting showing up when the pepper spray and tear gas started.
That’s when things started to get out of control. Reckless on the police part, if you ask me — I was there, I saw it. They shot off so much tear gas that we pulled people into the shop and had to stuff towels under the door. We were stuck there for about an hour and a half.
That was pretty horrific what I saw the police do on Broad Street. At 1 or 2 a.m., we made a run for it.
I have a handful still of rubber bullets shot off and pins from the tear gas canisters.
We just continued to stay open. Mostly just passing out water to protesters. We weren’t open in any sort of regular sense. We were selling pints out the door. We still had regulars coming for ice cream during the day.
In a very small and insignificant way, as an ice cream shop, that was the least we could do, stand with the community that supports us. That was part of being on Broad Street that night.
The violence may be gone, but racism and police brutality are still alive and well in Richmond. The mural on the side of the building was updated to depict scenes from the protest.
[Broad Street’s] not the same. A lot of businesses have left. A lot couldn’t withstand COVID, and the protests didn’t help.
Neal Patel, partner in restaurants Sonora, Switch Pop-Up Bar and Nama at 11, 13 and 15 W. Broad St.
We had a front-row seat to protests. We’re between City Hall and Lee. RPD is like a block away.
I remember standing outside as the crowd passed. They had just confronted the mayor on the steps of City Hall. It was really inspiring. You could feel the energy. You could tell something was going to happen — you could tell change is coming. It was something you’ve never seen in Richmond.
There was a critical week when things really escalated. We didn’t want to force folks to work if they were uncomfortable. Many of our staff wanted to participate. We were required to board up since we rent the property — it was the right thing to do.
Most of what we saw was nonviolent. Our dumpster was lit on fire. There was some vandalism. It was overdramatized to a certain extent and that left a stigma.
Broad Street never really recovered. No one ever unboarded. To us, it was such an unwelcoming feeling downtown with the police presence and barricades everywhere. It felt like the Broad Street I grew up with. There was no reason to be here.
COVID exacerbated all of it. You can see the energy coming back. We’ve turned a corner.
Everything that happened negatively affected our business, but the societal and social change that comes from it is positive and worth it.