Items are still for sale at STL Cordless in Ferguson. Merchandise is displayed on the walls, and goods are arrayed behind the counters. But one notable thing is missing from the glass display cases.
“No glass,” Sonny Tzion Dayan said as he gestured sadly at the fixtures in the small shop he has run on West Florissant Avenue for 19 years.
There’s not much glass on the shop front either, which is now covered with boards.
If the STL Cordless windows weren’t covered, you would see the battered and plywood-covered Ferguson Market & Liquor.
Next door, you would see a vandalized McDonalds.
One thing you would not see, however, is JC Wireless and Beauty Town, two businesses that shared a building across the street. That building is now a heap of ashes and blackened debris.
Ferguson Market & Liquor is the store made famous by a grainy surveillance video that police say shows Michael Brown stealing cigars and shoving a clerk. Brown is the unarmed African-American teenager subsequently shot to death Aug. 9 by white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in August. That shooting touched off sometimes violent demonstrations that have continued in Ferguson, St. Louis and other cities across the country. Wilson resigned Saturday from the Ferguson Police Department after a St. Louis County grand jury refused to indict him on criminal charges.
Dayan watched JC Wireless and Beauty Town burn.
That night was Nov. 24, when St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced at 8:30 p.m. that the grand jury had declined to indict Wilson.
Not long after, Dayan, who is Jewish and belongs to Congregation Shaare Emeth, responded to an alarm at STL Cordless. He found his business in shambles and other parts of West Florissant Avenue looted or in flames.
Dayan’s store also had been hit by unrest following Brown’s death in August, but he was not expect ing the level of violence that took hold the night of the grand jury announcement.”
“The second time around, the devastation was on a different scale,” said “Buildings burning, the streets closed. On top of the fact that we got broken into and lost thousands of dollars, we were closed almost a week after.”
In the run-up to and aftermath of the grand jury decision, Dayan received a fair amount of national media attention. He was featured in the Huffington Post and interviewed on CNBC partly because he refused to board up his windows as many neighboring businesses were doing in preparation for the decision.
“I had customers coming in who appreciated me not boarding up,” he said. “They appreciate having a seminormal community. They can leave their home and go shopping in an area that doesn’t look like Baghdad or doesn’t look like a hurricane is going to hit any second. I left it open for the community. I took my chances.”
Unfortunately, it was a gamble he lost, to the tune of about $10,000 in damages.
But Dayan’s main focus wasn’t on the violence or looting or losses. He smiled frequently as he talked of pride in his community, the support of his customers, the help he’d received from members of his temple, and the crew of volunteers out front painting messages of peace and love on the plywood over his storefront.
“You missed it,” Dayan said. “We had folks who came in before you who just wanted to shop. They really didn’t need anything. That was so wonderful.” Among the customers were two ladies from west St. Louis County. Dayan had seen them before, in August, bringing him bagels and coffee after the first round of riots.
STL Cordless has started an online recovery campaign at gofundme.com/htk4zo. Currently seeking $20,000, the site has collected almost $12,000 by noon Tuesday. Rabbi Jonah Zinn of Shaare Emeth suggested the crowdfunding campaign to Dayan and his wife, Hannah.
Meanwhile, friends from their congregation, Ferguson and elsewhere have helped with more than money.
“Everybody who heard the story was touched and wanted to do something,” Dayan said. “Everybody wanted to come in, pick up the pieces, shop, help, clean up and paint.
“I had people who would not leave unless you let them do something to feel that they are part of it,” he added with a laugh.
As donations are coming in to the online campaign, Dayan’s financial hardship continues. West Florissant Avenue was effectively on lockdown for days after the Nov. 24 unrest, and Dayan missed out on thousands of dollars in business. He estimates that curtailing hours on Black Friday alone might have cost him $4,000.
Though riot-torn businesses like STL Cordless are now cautiously reopening behind their plywood fortifications, they still must shutter after sunset. From Nov. 24 to 27, police closed down a half-mile section of West Florissant. On the 28th, it was reopened during the day, but required to close between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Hannah Dayan remembers the night of the grand jury announcement all too well, recalling a phone conversation with her husband.
“I’d call and say, ‘Did you hear the shots fired?’ He’d say, ‘Yeah,’ and I’d say, ‘Now might be a good time to come home.’”
But in one sense, Dayan was home. Though he lives in Kirkwood, he often works 11-hour days in Ferguson. Even Hannah humorously refers to STL Cordless as their “business home.”
“He’s watched families begin and those children get married,” she said. “He’s a real part of that community.”
Dayan said he’s had offers from those who would help him move out of Ferguson.
“But this is my legacy,” he said. “I’ve been in other businesses before, but I’ve got so much invested in this town. I’m on a [first] name level with every customer that comes in here. I know their kids. I know their stories. I love their stories. I love the community.”
That’s why he thinks he will stay in Ferguson. But he also is concerned about the ongoing loss of business and the effect of filing an insurance claim.
“It looks like we are going to have to file a claim and take our chances, but you never want to take that risk because if they deny me insurance next year and something drastic happens, I have nothing,” he said.
Well, maybe not quite nothing.
“We recovered with the help of the community,” Dayan said. “As you can see here today, the force of good that we got the first time around and the second time around are just overwhelming all across the board, all races.”
In Dayan’s eyes, there was only one race that mattered.
“The human race helped the human race,” he said.