Even in the best of times, survival rates for small businesses don’t inspire loads of confidence. Fifty percent of them close after four years.
But Natalie DuBose of Ferguson, Mo., did not open her shop in the best of times. She opened Natalie’s Cakes and More in downtown Ferguson in June. In August, police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown.
The city erupted.
DuBose’s customer base evaporated. She went two weeks without a single person walking into her shop, she told local media. Then things turned around. After interviews with local radio and television stations, her community turned out to support her business.
“By the time I got back from [local radio station] KMOX, I had people outside the door,” she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. What’s more, they kept coming. The single mother of two, who raised the funds to open her shop by selling her cakes at a flea market, could breathe a little easier.
Then, this week, DuBose was faced with another crisis. After news broke that a grand jury would not charge Wilson, rioters broke the glass of her storefront Monday night. They damaged baking equipment.
“It feels like it’s a movie that’s taking place,” DuBose said in an interview with St. Louis’s KTVI. “It’s just unbelievable, and I can’t believe it happened to my shop.”
The vandalism hit DuBose particularly hard because she’s now squeezed to fill orders for Thanksgiving. She went back to her shop and boarded it up.
DuBose’s neighbors rallied to support her again. Two GoFundMe campaigns to raise money to repair DuBose’s shop surpassed her goal within hours, with over $76,000 in total flowing to both. Celebrities Patricia Heaton and Brandi Glanville encouraged their Twitter followers to give the working mom a boost. Others have offered to help her take calls and fill orders. Another offered to build her a Web site for free.
What happened to DuBose’s shop, and the subsequent action to help her rebuild, sits at a crossroads when it comes to interpreting the actions of Ferguson rioters. There are those who say there are larger, systemic, institutional forces at work. Many, including Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was among those who led the fight for voting rights in the South, called Ferguson a “turning point” for civil rights, not unlike the march to Selma. DuBose is affected on a microeconomic level and was dealt very real hits, but is also caught in the crux of something much, much larger than herself — or even Ferguson.
One fund was started by David Swingle, who retweeted this message and other similar ones: “Congrats Ferguson! You proved to the world you’re the RACIST ghetto trash we knew you were!” It was accompanied by a picture filled with more text that read: “HEY, FERGUSON! The entire country is sick of your s—. Sick of the lawlessness, sick of the riots, sick of the threats and demands. The only thing you’ve managed to accomplish in all of this is to live up to the ghetto stereotypes. Congratulations.” In a conversation with another user, blaming the media for the riots and damage to DuBose’s shop, he wrote, “Send the bill to [Jesse] Jackson, [Al] Sharpton, and [Attorney General Eric H.] Holder. They stoked these flames from the beginning. GoFundMe for Ms. DuBose?” Later in his timeline, Swingle began tweeting links to the GoFundMe page he started to help the Ferguson baker.
Others, including professor and New Yorker contributor Jelani Cobb, have been reluctant to outright condemn the violent acts that have taken place in Ferguson. Appearing of “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook Tuesday night, Cobb said, “I think the riots happened because people feel they’ve exhausted all other mechanisms for being heard. For someone who has no reason to doubt that the legal system is capable of producing a just outcome for them, then the behavior does appear to be irrational. But the honest truth of the matter is that this country is rooted in riots. The American revolution was born out of what began as disparate riots responding to British policy. This is not as though these people are completely out of their minds, they have no sense. What they believe is that the system here does not represent them. … There is a context for this.”
DuBose has chosen to stay out of the political fray, but she is very much committed to Ferguson.
“I’ve invested everything into my business,” DuBose said. “I can’t go anywhere. I’m not going to go anywhere.”