Downtown Louisville businesses begin removing plywood ‘so our city can move forward’

Dahlia GhabourLouisville Courier Journal –

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Max Bloom was preparing to open two downtown restaurants when Mayor Greg Fischer declared a state of emergency in Louisville on Sept. 22.

After 117 days of protest, the city held its breath as it waited to learn whether a Jefferson County grand jury would criminally charge the Louisville police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor

Bloom put plywood barriers over the windows at his new restaurants — joining dozens of other downtown businesses, some of which had been boarded up since late May. That’s when protests over Taylor’s death started, and some people smashed windows and looted downtown stores.

While the size of protests have tapered off, businesses all over downtown are still covered with plywood.

Greater Louisville Inc. President and CEO Sarah Davasher-Wisdom says it’s time to take down the boards “so our city can move forward.” 

Related: Louisville’s Black business owners react to grand jury indictment in Breonna Taylor case

In a letter sent last week to downtown business owners and operators, Davasher-Wisdom said that while GLI joins protesters calling “for real change,” it’s important to “physically represent the city we strive to be: inclusive, welcoming, equitable and forward-thinking.”

“Currently, the boards, barricades and fencing downtown send a different message,” Davasher-Wisdom wrote. “A message that perpetuates fear and discourages our citizens, employees and visitors from supporting the vibrancy of our urban core. We must send a different message for our region to grow and be competitive with business and talent attraction.”

Trevor Mullins of C. Denny Landscaping takes away plants and flowers for the season while working along Fourth Street in downtown Louisville. Most businesses are boarded up and closed but a few are still open.

On Sept. 29, Fischer’s office said Louisville began easing up traffic barricades downtown, removing the ones around much of the urban core, but the barricades set up around Jefferson Square Park will remain, he said. 

Bloom decided to take down the boards at his restaurants — Smoked on Second and the upscale bar One Thirty Three — on Friday.

“I agree the boards send the wrong message,” he said. “We have had zero property damage since the start. We want to get back to some sort of normalcy and with us getting ready to open, it will be good to see downtown pick back up.” https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Protesters have marched in downtown Louisville for four months, demanding the officers who shot and killed Taylor, an unarmed 26-year-old Black woman, on March 13 be fired and criminally charged.

Previously: Seventeen weeks of protest end with no Breonna Taylor charges. Where do they go from here?

For the most part, demonstrations have been peaceful, but some violence and property damage have occurred.Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

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On Sept. 23, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced that one of the three officers who fired into Taylor’s apartment would be charged — and that was related to bullets going into a neighboring apartment, not over Taylor’s death.

During heightened protests after the announcement, two police officers were shot downtown. Police also reported smashed windows and other damage at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, Spalding University, Presentation Academy and the Louisville Free Public Library’s main campus.

Last week, many downtown businesses remained closed, including Doc Crow’s, which shut down Sept. 22 “until further notice.” Others are beginning to reopen, such as Patrick O’Shea’s, Hotel Distil and Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen. 

Jeremy Johnson, who owns cocktail bar META, said he “could not be more appalled” at how the Fischer administration has handled everything with the protests.

“I think the city should give every business owner within the barricades a check for the business they lost, because there’s no way we could have been open,” he said. “I almost got arrested just for going to the bar to pick a few things up.”

Johnson said some windows at META were broken in the first days of the protests May 29, and he believed it was white “militia” members who had broken his windows, not protesters. Boards went up at META until he could fix the windows and then were removed. 

“I think (boarding up downtown) is ridiculous and sends the wrong message,” Johnson said. “It makes downtown look like a weird war zone when it’s not. Everyone needs to take the boards down because they were never needed in the first place.” 

George Timmering, who owns Bearno’s near the Second Street Bridge bridge, said the restaurant had plywood up for the first weekend of protests at the end of May, then took it down in June.

Several businesses remain boarded up after protests sparked looting in the first few days in late May. Since then, the Breonna Taylor protests have been peaceful with little to no property damage. July 31, 2020

On Sept. 22, before the grand jury announcement, the restaurant boarded up both sides of its building. One side of the building has had its boards removed, and Timmering said Friday he expected to remove the barriers from the Main Street side of the restaurant on Monday.

“Now that the curfew is gone and the streets aren’t closed it’s the right time to take the boards down and move forward,” he said. “The biggest problems with downtown is the COVID-19, though, that’s what’s causing the problems. What’s happening with the protests this summer just kind of piled on a bit as far as not bringing us back to what we had before.” 

Background: Downtown Louisville businesses prepare for responses to Breonna Taylor case announcement

Laurie Anne Roberts, executive director of the Main Street Association, said she agreed with Davasher-Wisdom’s plea to take down the boards but thought it may be too soon for some businesses. 

“I didn’t think boarding up was a message of fear up until last weekend,” she said Friday. “I think the boards were a reaction in some cases and a protection in case of other circumstances, and a reality for those who couldn’t afford not to.” 

Roberts pointed out that boarding up windows is a matter of economics for some, such as historical buildings that have regulations on the kind of glass they can use in windows, or small businesses whose insurance would skyrocket if vandalized.

“I have been advocating for business owners, as they feel comfortable, to take the boards down, and I am celebrating when they are taken down,” she said. 

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