With Baltimore officials and Freddie Gray’s family urging for calm in the aftermath of a mistrial for one of six police officers charged in Gray’s death, small business owners around the city who had to start over after April’s unrest are keeping their fingers crossed that their worst day has already happened.
Clifton “Nicky” Hutchinson of Nicky’s Tailoring on Eutaw Street was getting calls from family outside the city Wednesday night, telling him to go home after seeing news reports about protests. But Hutchinson stayed put.
“I really couldn’t leave,” he said. “I had too much to do.”
So he locked the front door, closed the blinds and went back to cutting fabrics.
During the unrest in April, 10 men broke into Hutchinson’s shop through the front window, destroyed display cases and stole ties and fabrics. He was able to repair the store with insurance money and installed security cameras that can be monitored remotely.
Wednesday’s demonstrations stayed peaceful, which didn’t surprise Hutchinson.
“I think the city is better prepared,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a repeat of what happened last time.”
Fernando Roman, co-owner of Ted’s Musicians Shop in Mount Vernon, also feels better prepared for any unrest that may stem from the trials.
In April, a group of more than 15 teenagers broke into Ted’s front window, stole saxophones and guitars, money from the register and destroyed showcases.
“I think we are a little bit more prepared,” he said. “Of course, the city is more prepared too.”
Jignesh Sevak, lead pharmacist at Highlandtown Pharmacy, which was looted and damaged just three months after it opened, feels better informed. The Southeast Community Development Corp. has been sending updates on the trial and “precautions,” according to Sevak.
“Protection-wise, we’re just hoping it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
The pharmacy has significantly reduced its inventory since April and installed security cameras that can be monitored remotely.
“At least at the end of the day, we have a peace of mind that they (looters) shouldn’t be breaking in again,” said Sevak.
‘People are afraid’
Roman has seen a general decrease in foot traffic in store since April.
“There’s no public…people are afraid to come into downtown,” he said.
Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, said the organization is keeping member businesses, such as Ted’s, in the loop about what’s going on, and has not seen any “significant closures” because of the protests.
“Since April, there have been dozens and dozens of peaceful protests, and for the most part, they’ve followed that pattern. So, we believe that peaceful protest will be the norm and not the exception,” said Fowler.
But another incident like what happened in April might be enough to force these businesses to move out of the city or close altogether.
“It already has taken a good while to get back to where we are,” said Sevak.
For Roman, who lives above his shop with his family, relocating would be a massive undertaking. A “humongous move,” as he described it.
Hutchinson has resisted offers to relocate to the Washington, D.C, metro area in the past. He wants to be the go-to tailor in Baltimore. But if the upcoming trials bring another round of unrest, that might change.
“If it does happen again, it would be straw the breaks the camel’s back and I would consider relocating,” he paused and said, “I would definitely relocate.”
Daily Record Business Writer Adam Bednar contributed to this story.