How one Black-owned business was affected by BLM protests : The Indicator from Planet Money The Black Lives Matter demonstrations brought people together to protest injustice. But alongside the protests came riots, at a great cost to some Black-owned businesses.
NPR logo

Protest And A Black-Owned Business

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/898703442/898713737" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Protest And A Black-Owned Business

Protest And A Black-Owned Business

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/898703442/898713737" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith.

About seven years ago, Chris Montana opened his first business, a distillery. He called it Du Nord, which is French for, from North. He opened it in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minn.

CHRIS MONTANA: Their distillery is four blocks away from my old high school. It's the heart of the city because it's where there is no, you know, predominant racial minority in the area. It's kind of everyone's there. That vibrancy is hard to find.

VANEK SMITH: Getting the money together was a huge challenge, but Chris managed, ran the whole place on a shoestring for years, making vodka, whiskey, gin, different liqueurs. It was only much later that Chris realized he may have inadvertently started the first black-owned distillery in the country.

MONTANA: I found that out when I went to a spirits conference and realized I was the only one there out (laughter) of a thousand people. And I spent the next couple years looking for what I assumed had to be this group of black-owned distilleries. And they just didn't exist.

VANEK SMITH: But Chris Montana existed, and Du Nord became this popular neighborhood spot with a tasting room, where people could come and order cocktails and relax. In fact, most of Chris' money came from that tasting room, and he was able to build up his staff to about 12 people. When coronavirus hit, Chris worried that he would have to close. Money just wasn't coming in. He had to close his very profitable tasting room. Still, Chris managed to pull through. He felt like he might be able to make it. And then in May, George Floyd was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin. And Chauvin's precinct was just a few blocks away from Chris' distillery. Chris says when he saw the video, he just felt this overwhelming emotion.

MONTANA: Fatigue - it's like, here we go again. You know, we're doing this again. I would prefer, you know, to say that I got pissed off and punched a wall or something. But no, you just get sad. You know, it brings tears to your eyes.

VANEK SMITH: Chris joined the Black Lives Matter protests. And when he realized the marches were going right past his distillery, he and his employees set up a table, giving out water bottles and hand sanitizer to the protesters.

MONTANA: We wanted to support the protests in any way that we could.

VANEK SMITH: But Chris soon realized that people participating in the Black Lives Matter marches were not the only people coming to his neighborhood.

MONTANA: And there were the protesters. And then there were the partiers, and that would eventually turn into the rioters. And they were across the street in the Target parking lot and, you know, setting random cars on fire, you know, drinking and doing whatever. And so we knew that night that it was going to go south.

VANEK SMITH: After the break, we see what happened to Chris' distillery.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

VANEK SMITH: When Chris Montana realized that rioting would probably be happening around his distillery, he put signs up saying, black-owned business. And then he locked everything up, went home to his family and hoped for the best. The next day, he came to see what had happened. And as he walked through the neighborhood towards his distillery, he started to get this terrible feeling. And when he got to Du Nord, he saw that one of the doors had been forced open. And when he walked inside, he just felt his heart sink.

MONTANA: They set multiple fires, and they stole our inventory. I found cases of our booze all up and down the street. Our sprinkler system kicked on and put out the fires for the most part. And it was the sprinkler system coming on and dousing everything and putting about a foot of water in the entire warehouse - that's what did most of the damage.

VANEK SMITH: Chris says he waded through his business, putting out the fires that were still going, taking everything in.

MONTANA: I don't care who you are. If you have a small business and you put the kind of work into it that I have and that other owners do and somebody comes and sets it on fire - I mean, that hurts. And it feels like someone punched you in the face.

VANEK SMITH: And it wasn't just his business. As Chris walked around the neighborhood, he could hardly recognize it.

MONTANA: Everything's still on fire. I mean, buildings all around are burning. You can't go anywhere in that area without smelling smoke - or, you know, this weird snow of ash that comes down because, you know, all these buildings are burning.

VANEK SMITH: And Chris says he started to realize that, actually, he got off easy.

MONTANA: I saw a message from a gentleman who owns a business that's a few blocks away from us, and his business has been burned to the ground. This is a guy who's invested everything into community. And you can't talk to him about anything without him, you know, eventually coming around to, how is this helping our community? And his business was burned to the ground - everything 100% gone. And he was saying, look; it's just stuff. And that probably was the most important thing that happened that day for me because he was right. It was just stuff.

VANEK SMITH: But Chris had worked really hard for that stuff, and the damage to his business was enormous - hundreds of thousands of dollars. Rioting and property destruction has happened in cities across the U.S.; New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Portland. And business owners like Chris Montana are left trying to pick up the pieces, regroup and begin again, all in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

And they are up against some formidable odds. Bradley Hardy is an economist at American University. He has studied the economic impact of property damage and rioting on neighborhoods and some of the lasting damage it can do. Bradley looked at neighborhoods that had seen rioting and property damage back in 1968 in parts of Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Detroit and Newark.

BRADLEY HARDY: We analyzed the trajectory of these neighborhoods from 1970, and then we looked, you know, every 10 years; 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010.

VANEK SMITH: Bradley looked at all kinds of economic indicators in these neighborhoods. He says in a lot of cases, these were neighborhoods that were already struggling economically. And the riots and property destruction magnified those issues. Even 20, 30 years later, Bradley says, those neighborhoods never fully recovered.

HARDY: You know, neighborhoods where the riots occurred look worse. You know, they had lower educational attainment, lower incomes, higher use of welfare programs, higher poverty rates and that even though there were improvements, those neighborhoods essentially continued to lag behind other counterpart neighborhoods.

VANEK SMITH: Distillery owner Chris Montana says he and other local businesses in his neighborhood in Minneapolis are doing everything they can to beat those odds. They started a GoFundMe campaign, which raised more than $300,000. They've done a lot of community activities and events to help bring people together. But between the pandemic and the shutdowns and the current economy and all the damage, Chris has a lot working against him. At the same time, Chris says he's been incredibly inspired and moved by the Black Lives Matter movement and some of the real change that's been happening.

MONTANA: There's no part of me that regrets honestly anything that happened. I mean, I wish that it hadn't turned violent, but that's the price that needed to get paid. And it probably is the only reason why anything changed or anything has potential to change.

VANEK SMITH: Chris says that change has come at a price. And for him, it's a very personal price, possibly his business; a price that a lot of people in Chris' situation might say is too high.

MONTANA: That's nuts. It's absurd. And I understand that, you know, if you don't grow up with this, you might not understand it. But you have to think about a world where you're told at a young age, hey, by the way, because of the color of your skin, that story of American greatness doesn't actually reach all the way to you. If all that we had to pay, if all we had to do would burn a few businesses, I mean, that's absolutely worth it. That's just stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

VANEK SMITH: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Camille Petersen, fact-checked by Brittany Cronin. THE INDICATOR is edited by Paddy Hirsch and is a production of NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.