A number of businesses around Downtown DC have boarded up their windows or temporarily closed after sustaining damage or theft from two nights of protests in Washington. Demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality began on Friday, joining nationwide protests sparked by the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd while in police custody.
On Saturday night, protestors again marched on Downtown DC and amassed across from the White House. Some demonstrations turned destructive. Businesses near Lafayette Park sustained damage, including Equinox, the Hay-Adams hotel, the Oval Room, and Teaism. A graffiti message, “The rich aren’t safe anymore!” was left on the Oval Room’s window and a fire set inside. Owner Ashok Bajaj says he was just preparing to reopen the 26 year-old restaurant after being closed since March due to Covid-19. He also boarded up Bombay Club across the street, though the storefront didn’t sustain damage. However Bajaj says his casual Indian eatery, Bindaas Foggy Bottom, was vandalized and liquor stolen. It’s temporarily closed.
“People were just coming in and out, breaking windows right in front of our own eyes. Oval Room is completely done. It’s just sad,” says Bajaj, who spent the night at his downtown businesses.
Luxury development CityCenterDC has temporarily shut down for business, and all retailers and restaurants in the complex are boarding up their windows, whether they sustained damage or no. Hugo Boss, Gucci, Hermes, and a number of the other high-end shops were vandalized or looted, as was reportedly the nearby Apple Store. Centrolina/Piccolina is temporarily closed, as is Dolcezza, whose windows were smashed.
“Thank goodness it was just glass—it wasn’t any person or employee,” says co-owner Robb Duncan, who was preparing to open the gelato shop next week after being closed due to Covid. His other locations around DC are open, though he echoes other business owners in emphasizing the uncertain times. “This is not ending, this is not over for any city. There’s a momentum with unemployment, Covid, and the years of social injustice. We’re in for more.”
Despite suffering damage, a number of business owners like Duncan are making a point to stand in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter protests. Teaism Lafayette Park sustained broken windows and a fire, but co-owner Michelle Brown quickly turned to Twitter with her late night message: “Before anyone puts a single word in our mouths. Black lives matter.” (It’s since gone viral). “It doesn’t matter how I feel. It’s not about me,” Brown told Washingtonian this morning.
Founding Farmers co-owner Dan Simons echoed the message of solidarity on Twitter Sunday morning. The windows of his Foggy Bottom location were smashed, but the restaurant, which just reopened for dine-in business on Friday, continued with brunch service.
“It’s Covid world and it’s a really difficult operating environment. But the way more important topic that I see is the fucking justified rage,” says Simons. “Businesses have insurance. I’m not saying this kind of thing can’t be devastating for a business, but everyone needs to be careful in their tone. In context, if your son is murdered by the police because he’s black, doesn’t that parent get to use the word ‘devastating?’”