Protests over the police killing of Alton Sterling have prompted a few stores to close and blocked access to others, but business owners largely say they’ve seen little effect so far outside the areas near the sometimes violent demonstrations.
“Last week, we probably did 20 percent of what we normally do,” said Zach Fields, manager of Big Ben Furniture. Big Ben is located across North Foster Drive from the Triple S Food Mart, where Sterling was fatally shot early on the morning of July 5.
Fields said regular customers have been avoiding North Foster Drive. Since the shooting, memorials for Sterling popped up in the Triple S parking lot, and there have been throngs of peaceful demonstrations at the convenience store.
The crowds and protests at Triple S caused Fields to close Big Ben a few hours early every day last week and to keep the store shut down on Saturday.
“It seems like it’s calming down now, at least in this area,” Fields said Monday.
Moe Asmar, manager of Dream Hair & Beauty Supply, located just past the shooting site, said about the only thing he’s been selling at his store in the past week are Black Lives Matter T-shirts.
Typically, Dream Hair has a brisk business selling school uniforms this time of year. After all, children will be going back to school in about a month. But Asmar said he should have sold double the number of uniforms than he did last week.
“People have other things on their minds than back to school,” he said.
Near Baton Rouge police headquarters, one of the sites where protesters gathered starting Friday, only a few businesses closed early or entirely during the weekend to avoid traffic issues. For other firms near the intersection of Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard, the protests had little effect on business.
Chantell Mickal, manager of the PetSmart on Airline, said the store closed early Friday and entirely on Saturday as a safety precaution.
The company was worried about traffic coming into and leaving the parking lot, Mickal said. But there were no adverse effects from protesters, and the store has resumed normal hours.
Hays Owen, a spokesman for Baton Rouge Water Co., said the utility, its customers and its workers have not been affected by the protests.
“We’re right down the street from the corner of Airline and Goodwood,” Owen said. “We have not been affected.”
Mitch Rinze, sales manager of Louisiana Imports, a used-car dealership just down Airline from police headquarters, said business has been slow. “But summer is a slow time for car dealerships,” Rinze said.
Kevin Grelle, general manager of Gambino’s Bakery on Goodwood, said there were fewer customers Saturday, but it’s hard to say if that was the usual summer slowdown for the business or a side effect of the protests.
Workers get to the bakery about 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m., well before the protesters gather, he said. So there’s not much impact for employees.
Long Cap, manager for Mattress Direct at 9469 Airline Highway, said the protests had an impact on customer traffic there.
Some customers complained they had to change the route they normally take to get to the store, he said. There were fewer customers over the weekend, usually a period of fairly strong sales.
“We’ve definitely taken a hit,” Cap said.
Some black leaders called for a boycott of Baton Rouge’s two malls and Wal-Mart stores, hoping that business leaders would pressure authorities to arrest the two officers implicated in Sterling’s death. But it’s unclear what sort of impact the limited boycott has had.
Mall of Louisiana General Manager Jake Wilson said by email that the mall is open, with people shopping and dining.
Asked if security had been increased, Wilson said the mall’s customized public safety program entails many measures and provides a safe, inclusive environment.
Some businesses in the nearby Perkins Rowe retail center closed early Friday because of news reports that were relayed to their corporate offices. Donna Taylor, a spokeswoman for Stirling Properties, which manages Perkins Rowe, said those decisions to close businesses were made in the interest of employee safety and over concerns about streets potentially being closed. Taylor said there have been no incidents at Perkins Rowe.
Downtown Baton Rouge also has been a site for large-scale Sterling protests and marches. But downtown officials said the activities haven’t had much effect on businesses.
Lauren Lambert-Tompkins, managing director of the Downtown Business Association, said she hasn’t heard from any of her members about decreased sales activity tied to the protests. Lambert-Tompkins said Jehovah’s Witnesses held a regional convention at the Baton Rouge River Center over the weekend and will be meeting downtown over the next two weekends. “There are over 5,000 people in town for that convention, and I’ve heard no complaints,” she said.
All downtown businesses have remained open during the Sterling protests, though the 19th Judicial District Courthouse offices shut down early Friday afternoon, said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District.
Rhorer said there have been no downtown events canceled because of the protests. The Sterling marches have gone down Fourth Street to the State Capitol, and there are fewer restaurants and bars on that street than Third Street, an entertainment hub.
Rhorer did note downtown activities tend to taper off after Independence Day because of the brutal summer heat.