Minority-owned businesses caught between riots and cause they believe in

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INDIANAPOLIS — Downtown businesses continue to pick up the pieces of their storefronts and assess damages following riots over the weekend in downtown Indy. Some of those businesses are owned by minorities, and they find themselves between a movement they support and a financial means to support their families.

“We can replace merchandise, but when people are losing their lives that can’t be replaced,” Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo said. She owns J Benzal Men’s Clothing store with her husband, Ben Diallo. “We never want to be caught in the crosshairs with the store being looted. We wish there was as much outrage about the loss of black bodies as there is the loss of property.”

Ben is the fashion designer behind the clothing line. Rioters smashed his store front and looted his merchandise. He designed the items from start to finish.

“That’s not something you can just reorder like, ‘Oh, we will get another one of those,’” Kameelah said.

“This is definitely my baby. We have insurance, and so we will see,” Ben said while talking about the stolen merchandise. “Luckily, we have a new collection coming in, so that will help to have merchandise on the floor.”

J Benzal has three locations, including one at Fashion Mall and another in Carmel. The downtown location will remain closed. They removed all the merchandise from the store while the protests and unrest continues.

“As black people, we are parents as we are talking to our kids about what this means, and unfortunately that it’s not new,” Kameelah said..

“We really support the idea of something needs to change,” Romeo Gerson, co-owner of Michael’s Soul Kitchen, said. “It’s just, we feel like it should be a different way.”

Michael’s Soul Kitchen had the front windows smashed in. Gerson was at home Friday night when he got the call about the damage. He immediately came to the restaurant believing his presence may stop any future damage that night.

“We had to turn all the lights on, and just stay in here, so they know people were here, so they can’t make more moves,” Gerson said.

His restaurant had just emerged from COVID-19 restrictions when the riots hit. He says they had made a plan for reopening further, but now they are set back two to three weeks. Regardless, he is grateful for the outpouring of support he has seen from the community since the riots began.

“Our Facebook messages, we get almost 50-100 messages a day these past few days,” Gerson said. “People writing, wanting to come clean, or help, or anything they can do.”

“Right now in the midst of unrest we are asking people not to necessarily help to clean up because they are boarded up and cleaned up,” Indianapolis Deputy Mayor of Neighborhood Engagement David Hampton said. “What we want to do is support the businesses, and support our black businesses, and some of our small businesses suffering already from COVID. Maybe buy a gift card or gift certificate? Let’s find ways to support our businesses to help the recover.”

Hampton directs anyone to the Indy Black Chamber if they are looking to find ways to help or support black businesses in the community.

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