Four stolen laptops, countless destroyed files and a vandalized office. That’s what was left for Missouri Home Therapy owner Dionne Forland when she went back to work after the riots in Ferguson in early August.
The unrest escalated in the St. Louis suburb after a rally and vigil was organized to draw attention to the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed when he was shot by a Ferguson police officer. After looting broke out, police officers in riot gear confronted protesters. The daytime rallies and late-night clashes continued for nearly two weeks.
Many businesses affected by the disturbances are struggling to stay in operation, cover rent and pay bills. They range from gas stations and auto shops to clothing stores and Forland’s home therapy office.
Forland estimated the cost of broken and stolen items from her business to be about $4,500, and that doesn’t count the money lost because of a decline in customers using their physical therapy and physician services. Since the events in Ferguson, she went from having 100 clients to only 60.
In response, multiple organizations are stepping up to provide financial aid to businesses in the area affected by the unrest. The benefactors include the North St. Louis County Inc., the St. Louis Regional Business Council, the Small Business Association and the offices of the Missouri governor and treasurer.
Gov. Jay Nixon declared an economic disaster in Ferguson on Sep. 3, and the SBA opened a disaster loan outreach center at the local library the next day. The SBA emergency loans are for businesses that have had their revenue drop significantly because of the civil unrest in Ferguson.
In the first six weeks of the program, the SBA talked to over 100 business owners at the disaster center in Ferguson’s local library. The SBA is processing numerous loans now and the first to be approved was for $4,500.
“It was a small loan, but for that business it might have meant keeping the doors open for now,” said William Koontz, a spokesman for the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance.
The Reinvest North County Fund is another opportunity for businesses to receive help. The fund was started by the Regional Business Council in partnership with North County Inc., and as of mid-October had received $350,000 from individuals and corporations. Monsanto donated $200,000 to the fund to help with the schools and small business development as well.
“Most businesses have damages far greater than what we could do, but we felt it was important to get them what we could at this point,” said Kathy Osborn, executive director of the business council. “We tried to focus on those that had been the most damaged.”
In the first round of funding, $40,000 was allocated to four local school districts and $55,000 to 12 small businesses. The second round of funding was announced Oct. 23 and $29,500 more were allocated to 10 additional businesses.
One of the initial businesses that received funding was Missouri Home Therapy.
“Receiving the grant has helped us with payroll, and it has definitely helped us replace our (damaged) items,” Forland said. “Our case load is slowly increasing, but we’re still experiencing a loss of revenue.”
The Small Business Relief Program also offers assistance for local businesses. It has reached out to more than 100 Ferguson businesses impacted by the unrest.
Another $1 million was committed to this program by a public-private partnership consisting of the State of Missouri, St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, St. Louis Regional Chamber and a coalition of local banks.
The Small Business Relief Program will provide zero-interest loans with an opportunity to receive an advance for critical immediate needs like rent, utilities, payroll, and inventory.
Nine businesses applied for loans through this program through September, and the first loan to be approved was for $10,000, according to Meghan Lewis, director of communications for state Treasurer Clint Zweifel.
Although these programs and loans are helping businesses recover from their losses, some owners fear there may be more unrest to come if the grand jury finds the police officer innocent.
“I’m hoping that it won’t be longer than six months to a year [to fully recover]…but that’s if things continue to be peaceful,” Forland said. “If things don’t continue to be peaceful, it could take longer for us to see an improvement.”