Richard Sung Kang’s American dream came crashing down in a shower of broken glass.
The 49-year-old South Korean immigrant’s Baltimore liquor store and bar, the Oxford Tavern, was hit by looters during a riot over the death of neighborhood resident Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal injury while in police custody.
The business wasn’t torched like a nearby pharmacy, but its doors and windows were broken and cash and inventory stolen, leaving shelves bare.
Now Kang must decide whether to reopen. If so, it could mean taking on more debt and paying higher insurance premiums.
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“I don’t know yet,” said Kang, looking dejected and exhausted Wednesday after rioters damaged scores of businesses in pockets of the city.
Korean-Americans were particularly hard-hit by the riot. They run many small businesses in black neighborhoods in Baltimore, where there have been tensions between owners and residents.
About 200 small businesses were unable to open the day after the violence, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said.
The predominantly black neighborhood around Kang’s store, which also includes the burned CVS pharmacy, took some of the worst of it. The area has already been abandoned by many businesses, with vacant storefronts on every block of North Avenue and many boarded-up homes on side streets.
Racial tensions have been long-running. In the 1990s, according to a 2004 study by the Maryland Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights, there were complaints by residents over the quality of food sold in local stores, while owners expressed concerns about crimes targeting them and their businesses.
Rebuilding after riots is difficult and sometimes impossible for small businesses because most don’t have the cash reserves of larger companies. Kang doesn’t even own a home. He said he got a bank loan to buy the bar last year, after working nearly 10 years in Maryland as a biochemical researcher.
“Everybody says America is a dream come true,” Kang said as locksmiths worked on his doors. “The most important thing is, I have to move on. But is it better to rebuild and start again or give up and find some other place? I don’t know.”
He said he was insured but didn’t know if his policy would cover his losses. Although damage from civil unrest is covered under standard business insurance policies, many businesses don’t have adequate coverage.
Help may be forthcoming from the US Small Business Administration, which has offered low-interest loans after civil unrest elsewhere, including Ferguson, Missouri, last year after riots erupted over the death of an unarmed African-American who was shot by a white police officer.
Gov. Hogan, a Republican, said his administration will “do what we can” to get SBA loans for uninsured businesses.
Many stricken businesses are owned by immigrants – about half by Koreans, Hogan said.
Pakistani immigrant Rashid Khan reopened his corner grocery store Wednesday with the front window still boarded up. Khan said he borrowed $25,000 from friends and relatives two years ago to open the store and will seek their help again to recover from the riot.
Customers were waiting to buy soda, cigarettes, milk and snacks when Khan unlocked his store Wednesday morning. Some said the next nearest place for milk was eight blocks away.
Cities hit by riots in the 1960s have taken decades to recover. Rebuilding is still taking place in Newark, New Jersey, and Washington, DC, and parts of Detroit have only recently started their recovery.