Office of Ruben Diaz Jr.

At least 50 small businesses in The Bronx were damaged.

Read the original story in Spanish at El Diario
Translated and condensed by Carlos Rodríguez Martorell

Dominican immigrant José Ortiz, 50, is one of dozens of Bronx small business owners who despaired over seeing his longtime effort, as well as his savings, vanish in a matter of minutes during the vandalism acts that took place at several points along Fordham Road and Burnside Avenue last Monday night into Tuesday morning.

The bodega Matanzas, on 169t St. and property of the Baní, D.R., native, was destroyed and ransacked by an angry mob of youths last Tuesday, June 2, at 2:30 a.m., during a series of attacks on commercial businesses that have shocked the city. The looting took place during a week of protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“I made a big sacrifice when I got into debt two years ago to start this business,” said the devastated bodeguero to El Diario. “I did it for my family’s well-being, but also for the community. It really hurts when you see that, just when you’re starting to get off your debts to pay remodeling works, a bunch of so-called anti-racist protesters come in and destroy everything.” (Editor’s note: There is no evidence that the people who participated in looting were connected in any way to the protests).

As he was cleaning up the broken glass of the front window, which was smashed with hammers and axes, Ortíz explained that the mob emptied the refrigerators containing alcoholic beverages, as well as the cigarette cabinets, and took all the lottery tickets.

“Obviously we are now trying to get some funds, a loan, so we can go back to normal. It’s true that we have insurance, but the investigations can take months to finish. You get even sadder when you realize that people from your community, of your own race, participated in this villainy,” said Ortíz.

Before the vandalism, The Bronx was among the boroughs hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and bodega owners were already facing the risks associated with being essential businesses that kept serving their neighbors.

Radamés Rodríguez, also from the Dominican Republic, and president of the United Bodegas of America (UBA), said that they are still trying to assess the extent of the economic damage but calculated that at least 10 bodegas in The Bronx were targeted.

“Those looters didn’t attack more businesses because in some cases the community itself confronted them,” said Rodríguez. “When you take stock of what happened, it’s really painful. We were already going through a very delicate situation with the COVID-19 crisis, and having to require difficult customers to wear a face mask. Many risked their health, only to find themselves now facing this double tragedy.”

Bodegueros were not the only ones affected. Small cell phone stores, optical shops, liquor stores, pharmacies, shoe stores, banks and other businesses that in some cases were planning to reopen in the following weeks in the Bronx’s main shopping areas will now have to wait for better times.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Díaz, Jr., joined several local elected officials and community leaders to help in cleaning up debris at the Bronx Optical Center, a business in Burnside Avenue that was also ransacked.

“I know people are afraid but this cannot be the path forward. What happened in Fordham Road and Burnside was not justice. George Floyd would not have wanted this to be done in his name,” said Díaz. “We are calling for peaceful protests, so everyone can join forces against racism without damaging our own communities.”

Many workers in the area were expecting to go back to their workplaces this week, as the city is starting to reopen following the lockdown.

Lorena Vascos, from Puerto Rico, had a job as a cashier at a money transfer business that was vandalized. She worries that after a three-month wait, she might now have to wait longer to go back to work. 

“What’s more shameful is that it is our own people who are destroying us,” said Vascos. “With this terrible economic crisis that is going on, it is unbelievable that those so-called anti-racism protesters are the ones bringing more misery precisely to us, Hispanics and blacks.”