In the wake of the riots and protests that captured national attention, the city of Baltimore has a significant amount of work in its future. While the total cost of the damage has yet to be released, city and state officials have reported nearly 150 vehicle fires, over 60 structural blazes and a number of other problems, foreshadowing high expenses as the area works to repair the damage. However, Baltimore’s businesses already seem to be feeling the impact of the destruction, with over 285 businesses reportedly vandalized during the unrest, putting many entrepreneurs and the city as a whole at economic risk. Now, officials are working to promote recovery among these organizations as they search for ways to keep their operations afloat.
On Wednesday, May 13, the Baltimore Small Business Administration estimated that around 285 businesses and two houses had been damaged during the riots and looting, with at least 30 sustaining major damage. Construction costs for these structures was projected to reach $9 million, but officials reported that this number was only a fraction of the total cost to repair the city’s physical and economic impact, which the organization is working to analyze. However, the city’s economic development group, called the Baltimore Development Corp., has estimated that the number of damaged businesses could be higher, reaching 350. Representatives said this figure was based on a general canvass of the area.
But regardless of the specific number, it is clear that these damaged businesses and Baltimore itself could have a significant problem on the horizon: in a press conference on Sunday, May 3, Governor Larry Hogan reported that many of the businesses were minority-owned. Moreover, the BDC has stated that many have limited insurance or lack coverage entirely. As a result, many business owners have no way to repair the damage to their buildings, no way to reopen their stores and no supplementary income to help solve either problem.
In response, the BDC has established a program called the Baltimore Business Recovery Fund, which aims to raise $15 million for a loan program for damaged businesses. Under this initiative, affected organizations would be able to apply for zero-interest loans of up to $35,000, which could be converted into grants if certain benchmarks were met. So far, more than $20,000 has been donated to the program.
“As Baltimore works harder to foster economic inclusion and create jobs, the health of the city’s economy is vital,” BDC president William H. Cole IV said in a statement. “Small businesses play a crucial role in not only strengthening the economy, but also serve a strong need in the neighborhoods in which they operate.”
Meanwhile, several prominent Maryland Democrats, led by U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, have called for the Small Business Administration to help create disaster centers in the city to inform eligible business owners how to apply for assistance.
“This physical disaster determination and quick follow-through is necessary to help ensure that Baltimore business owners can get the physical disaster loan assistance and economic injury disaster loan assistance they need to repair or replace real estate, personal property, equipment, or inventory damaged or destroyed in the disturbance,” Mikulski wrote in a letter to the Small Business Administration.
Amid these plans, many business owners are likely looking for ways to stay open until programs are made available to assist their recovery, or even shed the stigma of the riots as the city heals. A number will likely update their building’s appearance and branding with new signs and other changes, and for good reason: research shows that redesigned onsite business signs cost just $0.02 per 1,000 views and reach more of a business’s overall market than any other form of advertising.
It is unclear when city and state officials will release a final cost for repairing the area’s damage. Currently, the City Council is planning to convene a hearing on June 9 to investigate the full expense.