NBC 12 | ‘A positive future’: Community supports 120-year-old business and others vandalized, looted

Businesses damaged by violent protesters over the weekend are now seeing a ray of hope thanks to an outpour of community support.

The Virginia 30 Day Fund, originally established to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, announced Wednesday it will commit at least $100,000 to helping Virginia small businesses that experienced property damage and theft in recent days due to the vandalism during peaceful protests following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“We can never tolerate the murder of African Americans – or any Americans – by police, nor can we accept the destruction of communities and livelihoods through rioting, theft and vandalism,” said Pete Snyder, who cofounded the Virginia 30 Day Fund with his wife, Burson. “As Virginia small businesses, which are already at grave risk due to the COVID-19 crisis, work to pick up the pieces and rebuild from this damage, we are here to help build them back up. Rather than allowing the violent few to tear down what others have built, we will come together with our fellow Virginians to heal our Commonwealth.”

Driving down parts of Broad Street in Richmond one could call it a “boarded city” after dozens of businesses were vandalized and looted in the final weekend in May. However, despite those boards, business owners are focused on one goal.

“A positive future,” said David Waller, owner, and manager of Waller & Company Jewelers.

For 120 years Waller & Company Jewelers has pushed through the changes our city and nation have seen.

“We’ve been through WWI, WWII, the Great Depression and all the racism that went on with the founding of our company,” Waller said. “No one would sell him (M.C. Waller) parts and tools initially; he had to make his own parts and tools,” Waller said.

But on a night when hundreds of people were demanding justice for the oppression of black Americans, some had other priorities in mind.

“We had a whole display of our watches in this particular showcase, most were taken, and I think we just put the remaining out,” Waller said.

Thousands of dollars in merchandise was stolen by looters early Sunday morning; many display cases also shattered.

“I think the people who are really trying to make change based on some of the violence that has gone in the country, how people are treated by the justice system and police are a separate issue from people who are committing violence,” Waller said. “Oftentimes the storylines get blurred and leads away from the focus of police brutality and the other issues that you may go through and the violence. The story ends up pivoting to the violence instead of the initial push.”

“What we saw this past weekend was absolutely heartbreaking,” Snyder said. “That violence hijacked peaceful protests and hurt people and livelihoods.”

Snyder helped found the VA 30 Day Fund to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, after seeing the recent destruction of businesses across the state, including Waller & Company, they decided to commit at least $100,000 to small businesses damaged.

“I called him up and said David, we have your family’s back,” Snyder said. “Your community cares about you and wants you to rebuild and rebuild quickly.”

Fraternities and sororities from Virginia Union University came out Sunday offering to help with cleanup, and already more than $36,000 has been raised through an online fundraiser.

“I guess you really don’t realize how much people support you and love you until something happens,” Waller said. “We weren’t anticipating such a big outpouring and like I said it’s just wonderful.”

As for a message to those responsible, Waller is taking a different approach.

“I just hope they would see the error in their ways and regret what they’ve done,” Waller said. “Maybe at some point feel it in their heart to do something positive for someone in the future.”

“A lot of times when things look like they’re really bad, God makes it good,” said Richard Waller, Jr.

For 82-year-old Waller Jr., who started cleaning the displays in the store at seven-years-old, his faith has also led him to something even more powerful.

“I have forgiven those who perpetrated for what they did and we’re still going to go on,” he said.

That’s what happened Sunday. Waller and his family opened their business for customers after cleaning up the scattered glass for hours that morning.

“It was like six of us waiting on customers,” Waller Jr. said. “It was amazing, very gratifying.”

Since 1900 the company has been a staple in the Richmond community; starting in the Carver neighborhood and moving to the Broad Street location in Jackson Ward in 1980.

Throughout its existence, the company has overcome many obstacles.

“In 1987 there was a department store right next to us; a four or five-story department store called Charles Department Store that burned down,” Waller said. “It was a four or five-alarm fire and fortunately that didn’t burn us. We’ve been blessed this whole time because that could have taken us out in ’87. It was so hot that it scorched and burned the billboards six lanes across the street.”

Now 120 years later, Waller hopes the determination that runs through his family’s veins will continue to shine a light on the community.

“Virginians are very resilient people, Richmonders especially,” Snyder said. “We’ve seen a lot over the last 400 years and we’ll see much more ahead. Yes, it’s tough right now; yes it can be violent, but you know what we’ll see it through and there are going to be better days ahead.”

“Hopefully this won’t be a repeat anytime soon and hopefully we can get to a point where people change their hearts,” he said. “If you have love in your heart, you’re not going to do any of these things. So that is the bigger key; all of these individuals that bring about hate and have that amount of anger in their heart, they really haven’t had enough love in their life to really do this. You can change a law but then people are going to find a way around it. Until you change your heart that’s when you really positively change things permanently.”

The VA 30 Day Fund is still accepting applications for small businesses seeking help after sustaining any damages.

Virginia businesses that qualify for assistance from the fund are small businesses:

  • Employing three to 30 people;
  • Based in Virginia and operating for at least one year;
  • Owned and operated by a Virginia resident.

For more information or to apply, click here.