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'If I’m gone, what’s going to happen to this area?' | St. Louis business owners reeling from riots, pandemic

St. Louis area businesses, already struggling during the pandemic, plea for an end to vandalism

ST. LOUIS — Ever since he bought the corner grocery store in the Bevo neighborhood where he grew up, Johnny's Food Mart, people call Niyaz Ali "Johnny." He's aimed to be the "nicest guy in the neighborhood," and while it's been tough lately, he appreciates his neighbors.

“It’s already hard enough that we had to go through this pandemic and try to survive. I really appreciate the community,” said Ali. “I love the people around here, and they’ve been supportive, that’s what’s been keeping me in business.”

That’s why everything that happened to his store on Monday night — windows smashed in, cash and thousands in merchandise stolen — feels so personal.

“My heart was very, very broken,” he said.

And it wasn’t just his store or just his neighborhood: from south city to north, more than 55 businesses were damaged Monday night.

Credit: Google Maps

Some had mostly exterior damage, but others were looted — shelves full of merchandise emptied.

“If I saw these neighbors picked up groceries, chips and candy, I understand, it’s a pandemic, people do bad things,” said Ali. “But when you’re stealing tobacco in boxes, hookah pipes? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Ali reviewed the security footage and saw that it started with two people breaking in, stealing a couple hundred bucks from the cash register and leaving.

“When they left, and people around the area noticed the alarm was ringing, there was no cops, they stormed the store.

“I don’t think this has to do with the protest or anything,” he added, instead believing the looters were seizing the opportunity with police officers busy downtown.

RELATED: St. Louis riot arrests: Their ZIP codes, ages and what businesses were damaged

He worries when the smoke of riots and looting clears, so will the businesses that support the neighborhood. Like his, the only grocery store in the neighborhood.

“If I’m gone, what’s going to happen to this area?” he asked. “They gotta think about it.”

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