South Minneapolis convenience store owner voices concerns about security as Chauvin trial begins

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Convenience store owner Joe Zerka is trying to stay positive. But he says he’s worried about possible civil unrest, with the trial of Derek Chauvin scheduled to begin on Monday.

“This part and down. This is where people came into the store,” he said, pointing out a boarded-up doorway. “That’s the only entrance that people had on Friday. That Friday night, thousands of people were going in and out of this section of the door.”

Nine months after the riots that followed the death of George Floyd, Zerka’s store, Stop ‘N Shop, is covered in plywood. The gas pumps are smashed up and spray-painted with graffiti. The property is now surrounded by a chain-link fence.

"It’s not easy, we’re hoping for the best outcome,” Zerka said. “Don’t want more of this happening again, have the store hit the way it was."

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In the midst of the unrest, looters swarmed into the store and the interior was set on fire. He and his family watched the destruction on TV, while sitting at home.

"It’s a really odd feeling, knowing that the tragedy of George Floyd’s death led to this here,” Zerka said.

His biggest fear is that the riots of last spring will repeat themselves.

"If this stuff happens again, how long is it going to take to rebuild again?” Zerka said. “I think the city needs to prevent any sort of destruction."

The Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct is just across the street from the Stop ‘N Shop. It’s among numerous public buildings around the city — including the Hennepin County Government Center, where Chauvin will stand trial — that have been surrounded by fences, concrete barriers and razor wire.

Minneapolis and Hennepin County are spending more than $645,000 for the ramped-up security.

“We can’t allow for any sorts of unlawful activity, and unlawful behavior, ranging from assaultive or riotous behavior toward anyone will not be tolerated, “ MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo told reporters Thursday. “Setting fires to structures of any kind will not be tolerated, illegal fireworks, throwing objects, as well as pedestrians going onto our freeways.”

Apprehension toward future for Minneapolis store owner working to rebuild after riots

Zerka says there were heroes during the two nights his store was looted twice, including a group of protesters who tried to stop looters from entering the store.

"The people who were defending it, I tip my hat to you,” he said. “I would love to meet them someday, I’ve love to thank them, putting themselves in harm’s way.”

A plaza just around the corner has reopened for business, including a restaurant, a laundromat and a dollar store. But Zerka says he’s dealing with construction delays because of a dispute with his insurance company.

He says the damage to the store and its contents totals $1 million. Zerka said a public adjuster is looking into his case and the Minnesota Department of Commerce has also offered to investigate.

Still, he’s vowing to reopen at some point. He’s just not sure when.

"I hope no other businesses get hit,” Zerka said. “I hope there’s no other harm of anybody. Just let’s get back open and get back to work."