Merrick, NY—Jewelry stores across the nation sustained damage during the massive wave of rioting and looting that occurred over the weekend. Much of the damage was broken glass and fixtures, not the rampant theft of merchandise that other nearby retailers experienced, but some jewelers did lose significant inventory. Photo: A shattered window at Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, DC.
In cities across the United States, peaceful demonstrations were held over the weekend to protest the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died when Minneapolis, MN police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, knelt on his neck after Floyd was handcuffed on the ground. All four officers present at the arrest were fired and Chauvin charged with second-degree murder, but a video that captured the event went viral, sparking outrage around the world.
The demonstrations began peacefully on Saturday, often with local police officers joining protesters in mourning Floyd’s death. Initial demonstrations also largely followed social distancing and mask guidelines in areas that still mandate it.
That all changed later in the day. Mayor after mayor in cities across the country reported the same pattern to TV news crews: everything was fine and peaceful, until it suddenly went haywire in late afternoon or evening. Many mayors and police chiefs told news media they believe the looters and rioters were not local citizens there to protest Floyd’s death but rather part of a larger coordinated national effort to exploit the situation to sow chaos.
Fires were set and retail stores were looted nationwide, often in upscale shopping districts such as Santa Monica, CA, The Grove mall in Los Angeles, SoHo in New York City, and on Walnut Street in Philadelphia as well as in smaller cities across the country. And many jewelers were, sadly, part of those.
Interior of Jack’s Jewelers in Santa Monica, CA after being looted. Image: KTLA TV-5
Not surprisingly, unrest began in the Minneapolis area last week before spreading across the country. Both of R.F. Moeller’s stores, in Edina and St. Paul, MN, sustained damage, said president Bob Moeller in a post on Facebook. A post on the store’s business page announced it would be closed May 29 and 30 and that all jewelry had been removed to a secure off-site location. The stores had only reopened from the pandemic on May 16.
Moeller told JCK that the Edina store was “robbed of anything of value on the floor” last Thursday, though the majority of valuable goods were stored in the vault. As the Edina store was being boarded up, Moeller was in the St. Paul store when he got a text from a police officer warning that rioters were on the way. He and about a dozen employees rushed to put everything in the vault and escaped out the back door just as rioters threw a rock through the front window, less than an hour later. That night, neighbors and armed guards protected the contractors working to board up Moeller’s broken windows, only to have the plywood smashed as soon as they left. Though nothing more was taken and Moeller was thankful the store wasn’t torched, he told JCK he has no idea when they can reopen or take the boards off the windows. All remaining merchandise was removed by armored courier to a secure location.
“It’s pretty surreal. I don’t know anyone who sits and imagines themselves in this situation where their neighborhood is being looted and burned,” Moeller said in a separate interview with National Jeweler.
R.F. Moeller painted its own message to try and deter looters. Image: National Jeweler
Two other Minneapolis jewelers, Tony Schaefer and Ryan Gilmore, owners of MSP Jewelers, lost about $60,000 to $80,000 worth of inventory in addition to the damage to their store.
Both Bremer Jewelry stores in Bloomington and Peoria, IL were damaged. Ashley Daily Stegall said the windows in both stores were smashed but in the Peoria store looters couldn’t get past the stores’ pull-down gates. Looters got into the Bloomington store but left when they saw there was no merchandise in the cases.
The jeweler, who only reopened from the pandemic on May 29, is closed Monday and is putting up plywood over the windows for now. Stegall is planning a community prayer vigil at the store but had no information on a re-reopening.
In Chicago, the rioting did massive damage to the city’s Jewelers Row area, and multiple jewelers reported significant destruction. Melissa Quick of Steve Quick Jewelers said even messages proclaiming “love” throughout the store didn’t deter looters. Vincent Spilotro, manager of Arezzo Jewelers, also in Chicago but not downtown, posted this video of the aftermath in his family’s store on Harlem Avenue. His father, Michael, is seen in the background shoveling up broken glass. Like the Moellers, Spilotro removed all merchandise to a secure remote location, but the store sustained significant damage to fixtures and computers.
Despite the damage to their store, Steve Quick Jewelers in Chicago posted a message of hope on the plywood boarding up its front window, above, and Vincent Spilotro filmed the aftermath of the looting with his father, Michael, in the background sweeping up broken glass.
In San Francisco, a photo of a looted Grace Jewelry on O’Farrell Street made front page news of the San Francisco Chronicle’s website. According to a post on Facebook, the jeweler also lost a significant amount of merchandise in addition to the damage sustained to the store.
Matt Rosenheim of Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, DC told National Jeweler that looters threw bricks, concrete, trashcans, and poles at the store’s windows for about five minutes. Although grateful more damage wasn’t done, they’re boarding up all windows and remaining closed for the time being in anticipation of more riots.
“I simply hope the violence and looting will end so we can focus on the very real and important issues facing our country and not be distracted by the unfortunate behavior of a small group of people,” he told National Jeweler.
In Santa Monica, CA, men’s jewelry brand King Baby had its studio and retail showroom robbed by seven men with sledgehammers, said Brian Bogosian. “They destroyed the place and stole plenty,” said Bogosian on the Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook page. Santa Monica police were unable to respond; a dispatcher told him to prioritize his own safety and leave the property.
In Philadelphia, the Lagos company store is on the part of Walnut Street where the worst of Saturday’s looting took place. The store sustained a broken window and is now boarded up, but fared much better than other nearby retailers, said a company spokesperson. Certainly better than fellow art jeweler Angela Monaco, who owns The Ritual Shoppe in tony Rittenhouse Square, a block west of Lagos’s store. The Ritual Shoppe carries crystals, art, and some jewelry, though only a fraction of it was gold and diamonds. Despite closed metal gates, the store was looted repeatedly. Monaco said the biggest irony was that the looters used healing crystals from her showcases to wreak havoc. Three buildings in the area—not Lagos’s or Monaco’s—were set on fire Saturday night and by Monday morning city fire officials had condemned all three as unsafe. They will be torn down this week.
At least two Facebook groups—Jewelers Helping Jewelers and the American Gem Society—are actively working to support those retailers whose stores were damaged. On Sunday the AGS site put out a call for any jewelers with extra tools, fixtures, and so on to consider donating those to colleagues with damaged stores.
Nationally, luxury brands continued to denounce racism even as many of their retail outlets were looted, Luxury Daily reports. Indeed, jeweler Vincent Spiloto expressed sadness about Floyd’s death and support for those peacefully protesting it even as he walked around his devastated storefront.
“I’m not angry this happened. I’m angry about the reason this had to happen,” he said in his video.
Jim Rosenheim echoed the resilient spirit of all his fellow jewelers in his post on Jewelers Helping Jewelers. In a note on Facebook he said, “To all of you who have sent your sympathies and good wishes in the face of the damage we sustained at Tiny Jewel Box. ‘THANK YOU’. We are entirely boarded up and are hopeful that things will begin to cool down here and around our country.
I want to take this opportunity to express my personal sympathies and good wishes for the many of you who have suffered at the hands of vandals and looters. It’s little comfort to realize that the acts of a few can blunt the important messages that these protests are trying to illuminate.”