Yoom Nguyen had watched Wednesday night as looters threw a rock and fire extinguisher to break into the family-owned business, which opened in 1984 at Grant Street and LaSalle Avenue in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis.
When Nguyen, who was outside, saw a young man throw a rock at a family photo that hangs on a wall and then leave the restaurant, “I blanked out,” he recalled Thursday afternoon. Nguyen said he pointed a handgun at the man’s head from three feet away. He froze — and Yoom ordered the man to leave, which he did.
“It happened so fast … 45 seconds max,” Nguyen said. “I was angry. I was no longer scared. Nothing else mattered. My mom is in that picture, and that’s very disrespectful in any culture. And that’s what got me.”
Nguyen’s story is one of many of how Minneapolis business owners and employees were caught in the middle of racial unrest Wednesday, sparked by a Black man who allegedly shot and killed a 61-year-old man in a parking ramp in the city’s downtown and who then fatally shot himself on Nicollet Mall as police officers converged to take him into custody.
On Thursday morning, not far from the suicide, Ted Farrell, president of Haskell’s Wine and Spirits, said three employees hid in a back room beer cooler and were “terrified” as rioters and looters smashed their way inside the Ninth Street store Wednesday night shortly after closing time and stole cases and bottles of liquor.
The liquor store was one of many businesses on or near Nicollet Mall area that were closed Thursday with boarded-up windows and doors, either because of Wednesday’s violence or as a precaution against more. Others included Target, the YWCA, Foot Locker, Starbucks and The News Room restaurant.
At Brit’s Pub, firefighters were investigating the torching of the dining area of the Nicollet Mall business Wednesday. A cleaning crew vacuumed up water, while owner Kam Talebi continued to assess the damage.
Talebi said looters got into the building around 9:30 p.m. and that they spent two hours “destroying the restaurant” before it was set ablaze. Within 15 minutes, Minneapolis firefighters were on scene.
“I think at that point, the cops started to have a presence here,” Talebi said. “We were calling 911, and they were stretched too thin and dealing with noise blocks away. And so on this side of Nicollet, people went at it.”
Talebi, who also owns Union Restaurant on Hennepin Avenue at Eighth Street, said that business also “got trashed.” He said video surveillance shows a car pulling up and looters making off with TVs and liquor. “There were no police,” he said.
Kam Talebi, who owns Brit’s Pub on Nicollet Mall with his brother, said rioters and looters were inside the business for two hours and that police did not respond because “they were stretched too thin” across downtown Mpls. Eventually, someone lit the dining room area ablaze. pic.twitter.com/OwMXxQaUvF
Talebi, who bought Brit’s Pub with his brother Kevin nine months ago, said they are enduring loss of business from the pandemic and now Wednesday’s violence. Luckily, he said, he wasn’t around for Nicollet Mall’s $50 million re-do, which closed the corridor for more than two years and caused frustration for business owners and pedestrians. But that was little consolation for him Thursday.
“You’ve got $50 million spent by the city and look at these storefronts now,” he said, pointing to boarded-up businesses. “It’s embarrassing. Hopefully, city leadership figures this out. That’s why they get the big bucks, right?”
Farrell, of Haskell’s, said Wednesday’s violence was another hit for a downtown that has already been missing its crush of daytime office workers because of coronavirus. The liquor store looting took place just after its 7 p.m. closing — an early shut down because of pandemic.
“The climate of downtown is abysmal,” Farrell said, who added that people from the suburbs are staying away.
Ted Farrell, president of Haskell’s, said three employees hid in a back room beer cooler as rioters and looters smashed their way inside the Ninth Street store Wednesday night and stole liquor. pic.twitter.com/OoR4yJ7Yhu
Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday that while the violence and looting was brought under control by the “quick response” of the Minneapolis Police Department, Minnesota State Patrol and Minnesota National Guard, “it is still disheartening to businesses that are working to emerge from the shadows of the pandemic.”
Weinhagen said the first responsibility of government is public safety and that people will work, visit and shop in Minneapolis only if they feel safe. He said the chamber and several partners, including the Downtown Council, Meet Minneapolis and BOMA Greater Minneapolis, have been working with the community to “advocate for the necessary resources to maintain safety, while also working to re-imagine and improve policing.”
At a Thursday news conference at City Hall, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said many of the businesses impacted “had already been pushed to the brink by COVID-19 and the unrest following the killing of George Floyd.”
City Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents much of the ward where the unrest took place, said she and people who live and work downtown “are horrified about the fact that minority-owned businesses were blatantly targeted and victimized by this violence last night.”
Goodman noted the damage to Lotus Restaurant and how looters tried to tear down the family picture on the wall “that represented generations of work at the Lotus to bring their family to a point where they could own a business in our city.”
Three other businesses in the same mini-mall as Lotus were broken into and looted — Speedway, Greenway Liquors and Rainbow Road, a GLBTQ store — before police officers arrived and dispersed the crowd, which had swelled to around 80 people.
“And for what?” Goodman asked. “None of this did anything to advance racial justice in our city. Small, minority-owned businesses were targeted. There was no regard for the workers and the people that have put their lifeblood into these businesses.”
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Nguyen, owner of Lotus, said that once police had cleared the scene outside the LaSalle Avenue businesses, residents who watched the violence play out from their high-rise balconies across the street cheered and yelled words of encouragement and praise for officers.
“It’s one thing to say that if something happens to your restaurant or home that you’re going to protect it,” he said. “But when it actually happens and you see the other person’s look on their face … well, you don’t want to do that to anybody. That’s the human side of us.”
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