By Scott Simon
If you haven’t seen video of the rioting and damage in Ferguson, Mo., you’ve been living under a rock. In fact, a rock would have been a safe haven for the dozens who were injured in August. I’m a witness to the fallout in Ferguson as I manage a self-storage facility just 4 miles away. About a dozen of my tenants live in the city and 75 percent of my customers live within 3 miles of the rioting area.
It was the top news story for days after Michael Brown was killed on Aug. 9. Billions of people worldwide saw the convenience store that was looted and burned and essentially became Ground Zero for protestors and rioters. What viewers didn’t see, however, was how it affected a nearby Public Storage just a football field away from the riot epicenter.
The Public Storage office suffered the same fate as dozens of businesses on Aug. 9 and 10 along W. Florissant Ave. Police staged a complete stop outside the facility to restrict southbound access to the street’s predominantly retail business corridor. Daytimes were peaceful but nights saw outsiders wanting to cause trouble. More than 100 people were arrested for violating curfew and vandalizing businesses, and only a handful of these people actually lived in Ferguson.
Public Storage was able to reopen, but many others have been closed for nearly a month. Repair crews were overwhelmed with time and materials to assist affected businesses.
What happened in Ferguson will affect you. Maybe it won’t be a riot like I’ve witnessed, but ask yourself, “If police shot an unarmed man in my area, would people riot?”
I knew there would be trouble. Before working in self-storage, I was a news reporter in St. Louis and covered a few incidents of unrest. Nothing to the degree that we’ve seen in Ferguson, but I know the emotions of St. Louis people and they haven’t changed much.
Most of the rioters arrested were in their late teens and 20s. My customers were appalled at the backlash. Maybe it’s because a majority of them are older, more thoughtful and calm.
But it didn’t mean I could let my guard down. Here’s what I did to keep myself and the facility’s customers safe:
- I cut the amount of petty cash carried to make change for customers. That’s important to me because at least 33 percent of my business is transacted in cash, higher than the average self-storage facility.
- I locked the walk-in gate during the day. I have foot traffic in front of our facility, located between two large apartment complexes. Just a week before the rioting, I had an incident where a non-tenant came to confront her former boyfriend. It doesn’t take much to set people off. I didn’t need to see it inside my gates.
- If I went to my apartment connected to the office, I locked the front door.
- I concentrated on being polite on the phone and in person. What I found was the majority of people I interacted with were also more polite, not just in the office but when I was out and about.
Life won’t be back to normal again in Ferguson for years. Many businesses won’t reopen. Fortune 500 company Centene Corp. announced on Sept. 2 it will establish an office in Ferguson early next year and will employ 200 people. That’s good news for Public Storage, which obviously suffered during the riots and may be affected for weeks and months to come.
As you read this and see stories on television, tell yourself, “This can happen in my backyard.” Because it happened in mine with the whole world watching.
Scott Simon is a resident manager an A1 U Store It facility in North St. Louis County, Mo. For 30 years, he was a newspaper and broadcast news reporter in Kansas City, Kan., and St. Louis. In his free time, Scott writes a blog and provides media consulting at www.provergent.com.
Photos courtesy of Nick Kasoff