Amid Destruction, Minnesota Business Owners Keep the Faith

One priest said he believes recovery from the riots has made the community stronger.

Above, Dominican Father Joseph Gillespie, the pastor of St. Albert the Great in south Minneapolis, stands by a hopeful message amid destruction in his parish neighborhood. The area was looted during violent protests following the death of George Floyd at the end of May.
Above, Dominican Father Joseph Gillespie, the pastor of St. Albert the Great in south Minneapolis, stands by a hopeful message amid destruction in his parish neighborhood. The area was looted during violent protests following the death of George Floyd at the end of May. (photo: Courtesy of Father Joseph Gillespie and Jim Stage)

MINNEAPOLIS — Jim Stage could only watch through a phone app as surveillance cameras showed the looting and destruction of his St. Paul, Minnesota, pharmacy on May 28 during violent protests over the death of George Floyd. That night the building was burned to the ground, but, thankfully, there were no injuries.

With the more-than-100-year-old building reduced to rubble, Stage already can see God bringing good out of the situation, as customers rally behind the pharmacy.

 Lloyd’s Pharmacy burned down May 28 amid the violence in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the end of May following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

“He gives and he takes away and he gives again,” said Stage, an evangelical Christian who purchased the pharmacy in 2014. “His ways are higher than ours. … He does care, and he’s going to take care of me, like he takes care of the sparrows, my wife — and I believe that. And he’s going to take care of my employees.”

Stage had seen protests on Snelling Avenue before, but the pharmacy had never been damaged. In the days after Floyd’s May 25 death while he was in Minneapolis police custody, peaceful protests as well as looting and burning of hundreds of businesses took place in Minneapolis and St. Paul until the National Guard was called in to quell the unrest. Protests over Floyd’s death spread to cities throughout the country this week.

Other business owners and local pastors in the Twin Cities assessed damage to their shops and communities and described the nights of violence followed by efforts to clean up. Several owners who had been opening their businesses after COVID-19 shutdowns now have been forced to close again. Bolstered by prayer and community support, they shared their hope for reopening again or rebuilding.

 

‘More Than a Neighborhood’

After losing computers in the fire, Stage and his 35 Lloyd’s Pharmacy employees have been working at another pharmacy he owns to rebuild their database of 8,000 customers in and outside St. Paul.

“Our customer base is so committed: They’re high-patronage loyal customers,” he said. “We know their names; we know their lives; we’ve known them for years and years and years.”

Hundreds of customers have expressed support for the pharmacy, and Stage hopes to rebuild it by next year. Forgiving the perpetrators was his first reaction, he said.

“I didn’t have any cause to not forgive them,” Stage said. “I know that’s part of healing. The first step is to forgive; now, we can start the healing process and let God do his work.”

When asked if he thinks the neighborhood near his south Minneapolis parish, St. Albert the Great, will heal quickly from extensive riot damage, Dominican Father Joseph Gillespie, the pastor, responded, “I think we will because it’s more than just a neighborhood. It really is a family and a parish, as well.”

A burned business on East Lake Street in Minneapolis.

Every day, Father Gillespie walks past the remains of businesses and institutions on East Lake Street that were damaged during nights of rioting. He talks with business owners he has known for several decades who aren’t Catholic but who advertise in his parish’s bulletin. Located a block off East Lake, the parish church wasn’t hit.

“When you know the merchants and you can just feel their pain, it’s a real exchange of empathy,” he told the Register, “not so much words as it is just a sense of being there with each other.”

Not far down the street, a Walgreens, post office and police precinct were burned down on nights when there didn’t seem to be police in the area, Father Gillespie said.

“It was a rampage; there were fires everywhere,” he said. “You just didn’t know what group would be coming out on the street next, throwing a rock or Molotov cocktail into your building.”

This trauma, along with the difficulties of COVID-19, has encouraged neighbors to rely on each other more, he said. “I have a hunch, if anything, it has made the community a stronger enterprise,” he said.

 

The Cleanup

A mile and a half from Father Gillespie’s parish, Gregorio De La Cruz and his family have been cleaning up destruction of their two businesses housed in an East Lake Street building. On May 29 looters broke into the storefront where they run their party supply/candy business, Fiesta Mexicana, and another business, Champion Cleaning Services. Looters stole TVs, computer equipment and money.

They left bottles of gas and alcohol, evidence they intended to burn the building, said Gregorio’s daughter Sauly, who translated to the Register for him from Spanish.

“Fortunately, nothing physical happened to the building, but we did lose a lot of merchandise and money,” he said.

De La Cruz, who is Catholic, said he has prayed a lot during the crisis.

“He needed a lot of courage to get back up because [the businesses were] a work of 15 years that he and his family have been going through, so it was really hard for him,” Sauly translated.

When their businesses were attacked, they had only been open for three days following a several-month shutdown because of COVID-19, Gregorio said.

Also following the COVID-19 shutdown, Shirley Nguyen planned to reopen TJ Nails, which she co-owns with her aunt, on June 1; but now it will be several weeks before she can replace what looters took during the afternoon of May 28.

The family-owned shop, located in a strip mall off University Avenue in St. Paul, wasn’t damaged, but all the shop’s nail polish, powders and equipment were stolen.

“They didn’t touch the fish tank,” said Nguyen of the theft caught on camera.

“It was mainly men,” she said. “They knew exactly where to go and where we kept our stuff. Some were familiar faces, which hurt. What can we do?”

Nguyen, a member of St. Adalbert parish in St. Paul, whose congregation is largely Vietnamese American, said she understands the reasons for the rioting.

“I’m not that angry,” she said. “I understand the situation [stinks] for a business owner, but you can just sense so much anger from this [African American] community. They did what they had to do. I understand some people did this out of personal gain; but the whole image, the rioting, the looting, it was to get a response, and that’s what they got.”

 

Respond With Prayer

Prayer, along with helping with the cleanup, has helped Nguyen through the crisis. She said she has never seen her community so united as in the aftermath of the riots.

“With our shop, it was just content stolen, nothing broken but the front door,” she said. “It’s a loss, but I just think about all the other people that have been looted, like their whole store is burned down.”

Nguyen’s parish suffered damage on the first night of protests, when a rock was thrown through a rectory window, said St. Adalbert pastor Father Minh Vu, who prays for parishioners and for the church building during this time.

“I pray that God keep me safe and keep me joyful,” he said. “I’m thankful I’m still in ministry.”

Prayer, as well as financial assistance, are coming from all over for the rebuilding of Lloyd’s Pharmacy, including a GoFundMe effort that has raised more than $90,000, Stage said. The goal is to reopen next year, he said.

Since their buildings didn’t sustain as much damage, both De La Cruz and Nguyen hope to reopen their shops in the next several weeks, if riots don’t flare up again.

To help businesses near St. Albert the Great parish rebuild and reopen, the parish has raised $24,000 so far, Father Gillespie said.

Perhaps one sign of healing is the fact that St. Albert parishioners were eager to come to the church just days after the unrest for Pentecost Masses — the parish’s first public Masses since March because of COVID-19.

“I’m willing to plant hope here,” Father Gillespie said. “I thought maybe that summarizes it: That’s what you need even in the face of great destruction.”

Register correspondent Susan Klemond writes from St. Paul, Minnesota.

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