Fort Wayne business owners talk impact of weekend protests

Local News

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Businesses are assessing the damage and picking up the pieces after three days of protest in downtown Fort Wayne.

Over the weekend, protesters arrived on the Allen County Courthouse lawn to protest the death of George Floyd and police brutality. Friday and Saturday night went from peaceful to destructive, with police shooting tear gas at activists and nearly 100 people arrested. Sunday’s event was largely peaceful, however by Sunday night, the damage was already done.

For some business owners across downtown, they spent their weekend boarding up walls, cleaning up glass from broken windows and doors, and removing graffiti. As a precaution, several businesses decided to close their doors to keep employees and patrons safe.

“The escalation of it is what caught everyone’s attention,” Hoppy Gnome General Manager Peter Shuey said. “Once the tear gas started, it was, ‘What do we do now?’ Our first instinct was to keep everybody else safe.”

Friday night, patrons of Hoppy Gnome on the corner of Clinton and Berry streets got a first-hand look at the escalation of the protest. Shuey said the patrons were out on the patio when the tear gas started.

Shuey and other employees quickly helped get patrons inside, moved furniture inside, locked the doors, and closed down the restaurant. That night, the business choose to close for the weekend.

“With the unpredictability of how it was going to unfold, we thought that risk was too much to take,” Shuey said. “We are a minority-owned business – we were with what was happening and we understand the message for sure, but for our guests and for our team, bringing more people into downtown didn’t seem like the prudent thing to do.”

If more protests happen in the future, Shuey hopes they are peaceful like the one on Sunday. After Hoppy Gnome was forced to close due to the spread of COVID-19, employees say they are eager to get back to work.

Shuey says that the restaurant has a plan if future protests escalate like they did Friday and Saturday.

Hoppy Gnome was not damaged during the protest, but Shuey’s other restaurant, Proximo, did sustain damage. The business was closed due to COVID-19 and it was in the middle of a renovation when protesters broke two windows.

Sheuy says the windows will be fixed before Proximo reopens in the next few weeks.

Like many businesses, any more closures could put restaurants in jeopardy of laying off staff or closing for good. WANE 15 took a walk around downtown and spoke with owners of businesses that were damaged during the protest.

Several owners say they feel torn – they understand and support demonstrators but they also support local law enforcement. What they don’t support is the protest turning destructive. Damage can be fixed but right now, owners say they are a loss for words and hope future protests are peaceful.

As a precaution, many business owners choose to close for the weekend, and others chose to board up their windows. As of Monday some of the businesses have reopened.

At the corner of Wayne and Harrison streets, repairman Pete was working on replacing windows from a parking booth that was damaged over the weekend. The windows were originally spray painted and then protesters smashed them in. In total, almost every window was broken Friday and Saturday.

Pete, who did not provide his last name, works for a company that helps repair damage like broken glass and windows. Over the years, he’s lived in places like New York, St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit. He said he expected those cities to have damage but not Fort Wayne.

“For a small town like this, it’s just crazy,” repairman Pete said. “It seems like you guys are a more family-oriented place and I just can’t comprehend it. With a community like yours, I just can’t fathom it.”

With rumors of more protests, business owners say they are prepared to close if future protests escalate. The priority is to keep patrons and employees safe.

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