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Cleveland Business Owners Concerned About Possible Weekend Protests, Riots

Some Downtown Cleveland businesses are concerned about their storefronts if possible protests ahead of Inauguration Day lead to more rioting.

The Chocolate Bar had to close up shop for nearly seven weeks due to riot damage after protests against police brutality last May. Owner Dominic Fanelli has already prepped his staff on what to do if violence breaks out this weekend including plans for contacting local authorities.

“The businesses, as well as any place in Downtown Cleveland, really can’t afford the amount of damage the rioters actually caused on May 30,” Fanelli said.

Armed protests are expected in cities across the country ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration, following the violent insurrection of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremists on Jan. 6, which interrupted a session of Congress and left at least five people dead.

The Chocolate Bar staff will follow the same protocols as during the 2016 Republican National Convention, Fanelli said. All managers will be working over the weekend. If tear gas is set off at the nearby Cuyahoga County Justice Center, Fanelli said staff are prepared to bring patio furniture inside and secure the property, including asking customers to leave.

Restaurants and downtown businesses have already faced enough difficulty between the pandemic and earlier protests, Fanelli said.

“It’s been a rough 13 months, basically, with COVID and then the riots and then COVID again, and now this,” he said. “We just have to pray nothing happens, and if it does happen, it’s not even close to the magnitude that occurred on May 30.”

Colossal Cupcakes was heavily damaged in the May 30 riots last year. Repairs are ongoing, said owner Kelly Kandah, and a reopening is currently set for March 16. But she has concerns about this weekend and the near future.

“It’s been a huge struggle to rebuild so far, and I can’t financially and I cannot mentally do it again,” Kandah said.

Boarding up windows and adding additional security ahead of protests is too expensive on top of the repair work, she said. Every resource is currently devoted to fixing up the shop so it can reopen, she said.

“The city, my neighboring businesses and myself have spent now eight months trying to fix what was so ignorantly destroyed,” Kandah said.

The community offered overwhelming support following the downtown riot last spring, Kandah said, and she still gets calls daily from locals asking how they can help. Kandah supports peaceful protests, she said, but cannot go through the process of starting over again.

“I hope people see the effect of what rioting and looting did, not only to the community but to themselves,” Kandah said. “If they don’t see that, then I do not want to give my business to somewhere where they don’t respect it.”

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