Ferguson business owners welcome new 'crowds'

by Dwayne Hastings |

A man stands in front of a burned out auto parts store Nov. 28 on W. Florissant Ave. It was destroyed during protests that erupted Nov. 24 in reaction to the grand jury verdict in the Michael Brown shooting near Ferguson, Missouri. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

FERGUSON, Mo. (Christian Examiner) -- This summer, West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson was the picture of small town America. The drive between Solway Avenue and Chambers Road in the predominately African American part of the city was a picture of well-kept businesses. The mayor even officiated at the grand opening of a bakery.

After two bouts with protesters, related to the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, and the subsequent grand jury ruling that exonerated Darren Wilson, a white officer and the shooter, business owners were crestfallen with the mayhem and damage that destroyed their small part of the world.

Now there are no shoppers pushing carts to cars at Aldi's; no customers buying bolts at the hardware store; no clients for Edward Jones' financial advisors; and no patrons reading the paper and catching up with neighbors while waiting for repairs at Meineke.

But new crowds are descending on the St. Louis suburb, in effect, and businesses and local leaders are encouraged.

Natalie Dubose was one of the owners whose shops were damaged by rioters on Nov. 24

Her store, Natalie's Cakes and More, suffered broken windows and destroyed kitchen equipment, but was not one of the businesses burned to the ground. She had opened the doors in June -- with great fanfare. The shop is just a block up from the city's police department, but she started her business selling cakes at a local flea market.

"Everything that I invested, it came from me saving money through bake sales," Dubose told NBC News. "I always had to work at least two jobs. I never had just one job because my dream was always to have my own bakery."

Dubose's losses were not unique; scores of businesses were impacted by the violence.

Now Dubose's bakery and the other businesses are receiving some good news that hopes to rejuvenate this once bustling part of town.

Crowds are massing -- on a fundraising website -- to aid recovery.

The outpouring of support for the small businesses on gofundme.com is nothing less than amazing.

More than $267,000 has been raised for Dubose's bakery in just over a week with about 8,200 individuals donating.

Dubose said words couldn't capture the depth of her gratitude.

Fundraising web pages for the Little Caesar's pizza carryout show $5,000 has been gifted, so far. Fashions R Boutique has about $20,000 committed to it. Both shops were burned to the ground.

Ferguson Market became famous for a video that caught Michael Brown stealing cigarillos before his confrontation with Officer Wilson. Television networks also captured images of rioters with armfuls of looted liquor easing out of the store's smashed front doors. It has netted more than $30,000 from 941 donors.

Flood Christian Church, where Michael Brown, Sr., and his wife reportedly attend, also was torched, although the building was some distance from the area where most of the rioting and looting took place. So far, $65,000 has been raised to help with rebuilding.

Local leaders can visualize a row of well-kept businesses again on West Florissant Avenue.

The crowds on gofundme.com figure to make a big impact on this Ferguson community without ever having set foot in this part of town.

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