Protests Helped Save Black-Owned Business That Coronavirus Nearly Killed : Updates: The Fight Against Racial Injustice When coronavirus killed foot traffic at Tommy Rhine's downtown Denver cobbler shop, he fell behind on rent. A "Black owned business" sign in his shop window during protests led to lots of business.
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Protests Helped Save Black-Owned Business That Coronavirus Nearly Killed

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Protests Helped Save Black-Owned Business That Coronavirus Nearly Killed

Protests Helped Save Black-Owned Business That Coronavirus Nearly Killed

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now we're going to look at the impact of a recent movement to support Black-owned businesses. In Denver, there's a shoe repair business that was on the brink of economic collapse due to the pandemic. Colorado Public Radio's Taylor Allen tells us about its revival.

TAYLOR ALLEN, BYLINE: Once coronavirus hit, traffic at the shoe repair business Tommy Rhine has been operating in Denver for more than 40 years all but stopped. His clients are usually downtown business people. For about four months, Rhine couldn't pay rent.

TOMMY RHINE: Half of them are not working, or if they are working, they're working at home. They don't need to dress up and have their shoes right now. So that kind of killed everything.

ALLEN: But then Black Lives Matter protests began downtown, bringing in more people. That's when his son thought of putting a sign in the window that said Black-owned business, in part to protect his shop from potential vandalism. It caught the attention of a local journalist and went viral on social media. His son and other people online have since raised tens of thousands of dollars. It also brought in more business than Rhine has ever had before.

RHINE: This is where I do all the repair stuff at. I got all that work to do. I got work in the box over there. I've never had to put people off for two weeks. I usually try to do two- to three-day turnaround. Now I'm having to say, a week.

ALLEN: Rhine is getting orders from all over the country now. His small shop is filled with rows and rows of shoes.

RHINE: I've got people that say they want to send their shoes in here from California, Illinois. I tell them, send them in. I'm right next door to FedEx.

ALLEN: Julia James is one of the people who made a fundraiser on his behalf. She periodically comes down to the shop to hand Rhine a check. The most recent one was for three grand.

JULIA JAMES: There's this nostalgia for what he does, but I think, also, that he's a Black-owned business that has been in business for 40 years. People stepped up, and they're continuing to step up.

ALLEN: Even with all the extra funds, Rhine, who's 70, doesn't have a desire to get a bigger shop. He's just happy he can do the trade he's been doing since high school.

For NPR News, I'm Taylor Allen in Denver.

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