Small Business

Two tales of business recovery from Ferguson

Ferguson businesses determined to rebuild
Ferguson businesses determined to rebuild

It's month two since a grand jury announced it would not indict officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown.

But since the the jury announcement in late November, businesses in the small Midwestern city of Ferguson, Missouri, are ramping up crowdfunding and lending activity to access cash and rebuild after the rioting, looting and violence.

Here are the experiences of two small business owners, who are navigating the road to recovery.


I knew nothing about crowdfunding. It's blown my mind.
Juanita Morris
Owner of Fashions R Boutique
Nearly all of Juanita Morris’s business, Fashions R Boutique was, burned to the ground in Ferguson, Missouri. She’s rebuilding with the help of crowdfunding.
Betsy Cline | CNBC

Some Ferguson businesses have turned to crowdfunding websites, with varying degrees of success.

GoFundMe, an online donation platform, has been among the most popular portals> In an email to CNBC, it said it has raised more than $600,000 from over 15,000 donors for a handful of damaged businesses in the city.

Eric Lee, a 19-year-old freshman at University of North Carolina, watched the devastation and decided to jump in to help.

Though not a business owner, Lee began contacting several businesses near his hometown of St. Louis to see how he could help. Lee eventually reached Juanita Morris, a local store owner he had seen on the news. Her store, Juanita's Fashions R Boutique, was burned to the ground with the exception of one wall.

Lee said he was struck by the disconnect between the reaction to the jury decision and those eventually hurt by the aftermath—community business owners. "They were so unrelated to the problem at hand, yet they [business owners] were the ones whose livelihoods were being destroyed," Lee said.

Lee and Morris paired up and launched a GoFundMe page, with donations now totaling nearly $23,000surpassing their initial goal of $20,000.

"People around America have been reaching out to help us with donations and equipment for her new store," Lee said. "The Ferguson verdict revealed and uncovered deeper societal issues, but I think its unfair overall," he said. Business owners "had nothing to do with this."

Morris has plans to open a temporary location in Ferguson with the donations, but would like to eventually rebuild in her old spot. Fashions R Boutique was founded about 30 years ago with "$135 and a borrowed credit card."

"I expected a few broken windows at best," Morris said, reflecting on the aftermath.

The power of online funding platforms and the generosity of strangers has been surprising, too. "I knew nothing about crowdfunding," Morris said. "It's blown my mind."

Ferguson biz owner: Rebuild an uphill battle
Ferguson biz owner: Rebuild an uphill battle

Lending and borrowing

While some entrepreneurs have turned to online funding platforms, others are rebuilding with traditional lending sources.

The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, for example, is offering zero-interest loans for some affected businesses. Among the loan recipients are Briant Mitchell's BKM Fitness Bootcamp.

Mitchell's fitness center is near the Ferguson Police Department. The business was vandalized twice—once after Brown's killing in August and after the grand jury announcement.

Nearly 75 percent of Briant Mitchell's BKM Fitness Bootcamp was damaged in Ferguson. He’s using zero-interest loans to rebuild.
Kate Rogers | CNBC

"I lost 75 percent of my business," Mitchell said. "My rent is about $4,000 a month and I have had to dip into my personal savings account, as my business dropped between $12,000 and $15,000 a month."

Slowly customers are coming back, said Mitchell, who refuses to shut down or relocate. He said standing firm and repairing business are key to the city's healing process. Mitchell has borrowed $10,000 through the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, with a five-year term, which he plans to use to advertise.

The organization has doled out 49 loans and grants to business owners, all totaling near $500,000, said Katy Jamboretz, a spokeswoman for the development partnership.

Bigger picture, it has been challenging calculating the total damage to local businesses, and lost foot traffic and physical damage to stores are estimates at best. The City of Ferguson said a total damage amount figure is not yet available.

"I've never had to take out a loan before," Mitchell said. "I hope this helps to bring back my business. People want to live a longer and healthier life, and I am here to help them succeed."