KENOSHA, Wis. — In the heart of downtown, small-business owners were prepared for the worst, fearing protesters, crime and vandalism may return regardless of the outcome in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial.
As closing arguments got underway Monday, residents and business owners braced for a possible repeat of August 2020 when demonstrators took to the streets after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a black resident, leaving him partially paralyzed.
“No matter which way the verdict goes, somebody is going to be upset,” said Lyna Postuchow, owner of A Summer’s Garden, a floral shop. “You always have to be ready because you don’t know what’s going to happen, but we hope cooler minds prevail.”
She was home last summer watching live surveillance video as a protester broke her store windows and damaged the front door. The shop sustained more than $10,000 in damage, which was covered by insurance.
“Nobody wants a repeat of last summer. Those were not Kenosha people. That’s not who caused us damage,” Postuchow said.
Several businesses on 6th Avenue between 56th and 57th streets that were targeted by demonstrators were either closed or unoccupied Monday. Owners of open establishments said they were waiting to see what comes next.
For safety reasons, Gus Harris, owner of Flex & Burn Fitness Center, said he plans to board up his gym like he did in the summer of 2020.
“Obviously, we’re concerned. Definitely,” he said.
A jury verdict in the Rittenhouse case could come later this week. Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with intentional homicide and reckless homicide after shooting three men, killing two, on Aug. 25, 2020. The victims and Rittenhouse were in the streets of Kenosha as social justice demonstrations erupted following the police shooting of Blake.
Before closing arguments began, Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a weapons charge against Rittenhouse.
Mike Lampos, owner of the downtown bar Fec’s Place, was watching the Rittenhouse trial Monday as he does every day. Last summer, he watched from inside the bar as protesters damaged nearby stores.
“Our city is on the line. Either way, you’re going to have people who are unhappy. Only half will be happy about the outcome. The other half are the people who are coming,” to possibly damage businesses, he said.
“I wouldn’t say I’m not concerned, but I’m not as worried as I was. I’m not boarding up," he continued. "Well, if this were to turn into something we had last year and buildings are burning, I’ve got my boards ready. I could board up in an hour.”
Others around town, such as Oliver’s Bakery owner Anne Benson, were also preparing for possible protesters.
“Do I have my boards? Yes, I do. Do I want to put them up? No, I don’t. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. All I’m going to do is stay positive,” she told NBC affiliate TJM4 in Milwaukee.
Scott Carpenter, owner of B&L Office Furniture, said rioting is pointless.
“Protesting is OK, but rioting and creating mass destruction to your town or an outsider coming into your town, it does not prove a single thing. It doesn’t help,” he told the station.