Cleanup at shopping center stirs varied views on vandalism

Cleanup at shopping center stirs varied views on vandalism

COVENANT BLU-GRAND CENTER – On any other day, Henry Watson would be reporting to work at a Foot Locker and a Kids Foot Locker in MLK Plaza just off Page and Grand boulevards. 

Henry Watson
But on Tuesday, he could only look in sadness at what was left of the stores after looters wrecked nine stores in the center, including the two where Watson works.

“It’s crazy. Now I’m out of a job,” Watson said as he stood next to the Kids Foot Locker, its windows broken. 

“A lot of people out here don’t [have] a lot going, so they encourage things, you know,” Watson said. “A lot of us do have stuff going. I have a family. I have kids, and I have a lady.”

A volunteer helps clean the MLK Plaza shopping center at Page and Grand boulevards on Thursday. Nine stores in the center were damaged during protests. Photos by Jim Merkel / MetroSTL.com
In front of the looted stores, volunteers with brooms swept up glass and moved it away.

They came as part of a quickly organized effort by Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed to mobilize helpers to clean up damage from a bad night of looting from Monday night to Tuesday morning.

Reed was at the shopping center Tuesday morning, helping the volunteers and talking to reporters and camera crews.

Reed said that as an African-American who had worked throughout his life for racial equality, he was frustrated that the looting was hurting African-Americans. 

Aldermanic President Lewis Reed speaks Thursday at a cleanup he organized at the MLK Plaza.
“The people who work here, they live in the neighborhood and the community,” Reed said. “The people who shop here are from the community. And that’s the very people that the protests are supposed to help.”

He also organized a GoFundMe campaign, called https://www.gofundme.com/f/restore-st-louis, to raise money for small businesses damaged overnight from Monday to Tuesday. The  campaign had a goal of $50,000 by 5 p.m. Friday and had raised $12,055 by Wednesday night.

With more than 14,000 square feet, the strip center cost $7 million when it opened in 2003.

A Save-A-Lot supermarket, which was not damaged, is the anchor among 14 stores. Nine stores were damaged.

Volunteers doing cleanup included Tim Hogenkamp, 25, who lives in the Fox Park neighborhood. 

“I’m here because I live in St. Louis,” said Hogenkamp, who said he was opposed to the rioting and hate. “It’s about the community coming together through rebuilding.”

Nineteenth Ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis had a different reason for coming out to the shopping center. Davis, who represents the area of the center, was upset that the stores of many good tenants of the shopping center were damaged.

“They could be anywhere else, but they chose to be here,” Davis said. “They’re good to this community. They give back. I don’t understand people who believe that they have a right to take.” 

“People are frustrated. We totally support people having their voices heard in nonviolent ways. We totally support that,” Davis said, while condemning violence.

“We’ve barely recovered from Michael Brown. We are under stress and crisis with COVID. So many people have lost their jobs,”  Davis said. “Now, more people. They can’t come to work. It’s just too much. It is too much to put on one community, and we are really hurting ourselves more than we are hurting anybody else. This just must stop.”

One neighborhood resident who might not agree is Devon Daniels.

“Of course it’s a tragedy,” he said, standing at the edge of the center. However, he’s not sure whether the violence is necessary or not.

“The people of this community are outraged, very outraged. They’re doing things without thought. They’re blacking out. They’re doing things without thought,” Daniels repeated.

 “We are not our ancestors. There are so many movies that you can see of peaceful protesters from the ’60s and the ’70s where people were violent,” Daniels said. “We are not being protected by our police officers here.”

Asked where people would get shoes when a shoe store had been looted, Daniels said that was a materialistic attitude. Shoes can be replaced, but people like George Floyd can’t, he said.

Shawn Evans would disagree totally. Evans, 60, had just finished shopping at the Save-A-Lot in the center.

“I feel like this is just stupid,” Evans asserted.

“This is using a cause just for your benefit, and it doesn’t even make any sense for you to even do it,” said Evans, who lives about five minutes away. “You’re ruining businesses where we have to show your neighborhood, and you’re destroying it. One of my nieces’ places, one of my cousins’ places got actually looted.”

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