December 4, 2023


The Number One Source For Business

Some business owners are fine. Others still struggle.

A year ago, Ross Martinson’s Center City store, Philadelphia Runner, was ransacked in the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. As raucous crowds cleared out of Rittenhouse Square’s retail corridors, Martinson and his business partners were left to contend with an upturned, waterlogged store after sprinklers had activated to quell a fire set inside.

A year later, Martinson says he plans to reopen Philadelphia Runner this summer in a new location at 17th and Walnut Streets, a block away from the former store at 16th and Sansom. While many businesses in the Rittenhouse Square area were able to bounce back within a few days to several months, locally owned Philadelphia Runner, which was surrounded by mostly high-end chains, was a notable exception — and a reminder that not everything downtown has returned to normal.

“It was completely destroyed,” Martinson said last May about the store, which needed to have its floors and drywall replaced. Now that he has signed a lease for the new, significantly larger store, “I’m definitely feeling positive for the future.” He added that Philadelphia Runner did well in the spring once its online store went live in February with all of the store’s merchandise.

As the unrest trickled out from Center City to the 52nd Street shopping corridor in West Philadelphia last year, some small business owners have continued to struggle.

As of late April, 53 of the 1,906 ground-floor businesses in Center City, or 2.8{de3fc13d4eb210e6ea91a63b91641ad51ecf4a1f1306988bf846a537e7024eeb}, were still boarded up, said JoAnn Loviglio, a spokesperson for the Center City District. Over on the retail strip of 52nd Street, many businesses were damaged twice last year, and some owners are still reeling.

“I’m open back up, but the business right now is kind of shaky,” said Mohammad Rahman, the owner of SNS Electronics at 203 S. 52nd St. His business was ransacked two times last year, in the spring and fall, and then burglarized this year. He said he didn’t have insurance that would have protected him against property damage last year but has bought it since then. “I know for a fact if I had insurance, I would have been fine.”

Rahman said his merchandise was valued between $40,000 and $60,000. Most of it — phones, televisions, speakers, and other electronics accessories — was stolen during the unrest last year, and he can’t afford to fully restock.

“I’m just hitting my savings,” said Rahman, 25, who immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 2007 and opened his store in 2016 after gaining work experience at other electronics stores for about a decade. “I borrowed some money from my parents and people that I know just to get back up, but it’s not enough.”

He received about $5,500 in private aid from organizations that included the Enterprise Center, a West Philadelphia group that assists underrepresented entrepreneurs. Rahman said he applied twice to receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration with the hope he would receive some help.

“I didn’t get nothing at all,” he said.

The money he received from other sources dwindled quickly.

A total of 36 businesses on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia were affected by civil unrest last spring, said Sadiyah Sabree, the 52nd Street commercial corridor manager for the Enterprise Center. In October, after Philadelphia police shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr., whose family said he was having a mental health crisis when he confronted officers with a knife, 22 businesses were impacted, some for the second time.

The Enterprise Center raised more than $150,000 and started to distribute $2,000 to each local business that sustained damage, Sabree said. Some stores that experienced particularly heavy damage — such as King’s Fashions, which was set on fire — received a little more. A man who picked up the phone at King’s Fashions, which reopened at the end of February, said the owner was out of town for an extended trip. He declined to comment.

The community rallying around local businesses “has been really supportive,” Sabree said, although “there are still some lingering fears. The experience was so traumatic that it’s now at the back of their minds.”

Across the city, many merchants declined to talk about the fallout of the civil unrest and vandalism. In Center City, spokespeople for some stores that were vandalized last May declined to comment. Major Rittenhouse Square retailers that sustained heavy losses last year included Nordstrom Rack, Bloomingdale’s Outlet, H&M, Doc Martens, Vans, Urban Outfitters, and Apple.

“We had a lot of products that were taken,” said Nicole Miller, marketing director for Adolf Biecker Salon, which has a location at 16th and Sansom and two spots in the Philadelphia suburbs. “Luckily, we were able to rebound from it and get the repairs.” She said no one was inside when people started breaking windows, and no tools or dryers were stolen because of the way the salon is arranged.

“As an organization, we were upset about what was going on within our salons,” she said, “but we had a greater concern as part of what was going on in the greater society as a whole.” Adolf Biecker’s staff was able to reopen the salon in two to three days after it boarded up its storefront while it waited to replace its broken glass doors. “It was a challenging time, but we are definitely on the rebound.”

“Many were delayed waiting for insurance adjusters as well as materials and supplies,” Steve Gartner, executive vice president of global retail services for the commercial real estate firm CBRE, said of businesses that were damaged during civil unrest last year. “Almost all tackled the desire and the task to reopen as soon as possible.”

In April, as the murder trial for Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin drew to a close as millions nervously waited for the verdict, Sabree, who oversees businesses on the 52nd Street commercial corridor, asked local business owners in an email to make sure their security cameras were set up and their security gates were working properly.

“We don’t want people to be fearful,” she said. “We want them to be prepared.”