|Korean American Dae-oh Yang's women's apparel store Venus Fashion in Chicago was looted on May 31 when Black Lives Matter protests swept the city. Racks are left on the floor with debris of the looting in this combination of six photos taken from different angles at the store. / Courtesy of Dae-oh Yang|
Small donors, their words of encouragement help Korean American to rebuild business
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Dae-oh Yang's phone was ringing hot on the morning of May 31. The Korean American owner of the women's apparel store Venus Fashion in Chicago, Illinois, found he had missed several calls and urgent text messages from his customers. They said looters had broken into his store and items had been stolen.
Located in the southern part of the city, Venus Fashion is a one hour drive from Yang's home in the north. His store was closed back then due to the COVID-19 pandemic and scheduled to reopen June 1.
Lots of missed calls and texts from his concerned friends and acquaintances broke the peaceful Sunday morning.
Hours later, Yang, 54, was devastated when he checked his store. It had been destroyed in mere hours.
Yang's apparel store was the result of decades of hard work since he immigrated to the United States in 1992.
"I don't remember how the first three days had passed since May 31," he said during a recent phone interview with The Korea Times. "I don't remember anything. All I remember is that I couldn't sleep at night because the worries about my small business kept playing in my mind."
The looting in Chicago took place at the start of the Black Lives Matter protests which started in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May and spread quickly to other cities afterwards.
Yang said he supports the protest and accordingly had no hard feelings about the protestors because he knew they were not the looters. As an ethnic minority, he said he benefitted a lot from the black community-led civil rights movement.
However, seeing his looted store, he said his heart was broken and he couldn't understand why this happened to him.
Before the traumatic incident, he said his life in Chicago as a Korean immigrant had gone relatively smoothly. Thanks to the safe neighborhood, his store remained intact even during the Chicago Bulls championship riots in the early 1990s.
"This area has been safe since I started my own business here in 1994, two years after I immigrated to the United States," Yang said. "We don't have surveillance cameras because we didn't need it. I didn't even install an anti-theft device there. Having done business here for nearly 20 years as an owner after years of experience as a sales clerk at a store right next door, I haven't experienced shoplifters. People were so nice and we trusted each other."
But this time, his small business was torn apart.
The looters pulled shutters off to enter the store. Clothes and other items were stolen. Racks were left on the floor with the debris and damage from the looting. Total losses were around $400,000.
The looting came on the heels of the damage to his business from the COVID-19 pandemic, and so Yang is feeling the pinch. His store was insured but the insurance coverage ($70,000) fell far below of the financial loss.
He and his wife and their two children ― Daniel and Gloria ― were filled with anxiety and fear.
|Dae-oh Yang, right, with family members at Glenbrook North High School in Illinois on June 5. From left are Yang's son Daniel, his wife Mi-hee and Gloria, who graduated from the school. She will be majoring in cognitive psychology at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. / Courtesy of Dae-oh Yang|
The "unprecedented hardship," however, encouraged his family members to help each other to overcome it in unity. The family bonds have deepened as his children rolled up their sleeves to help their parents.
Gloria, who recently graduated high school and will study cognitive psychology at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, created a fundraiser on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe on June 2 to help her father rebuild his business.
"We realized that insurance would lack full financial support. I've often donated to different GoFundMe fundraisers so it only made sense for me to use that platform," she said.
The Yang family has collected over $33,000 as of Tuesday. More than 500 people donated.
Although the money raised still falls far short of the losses, it means a lot to the Yang family.
"My parents are in awe with the amount of support we have been getting," said Gloria. "They are not concerned with how much or how little people donate but just even the thought of support and comfort has been a tremendous help. We have been so humbled at the fact that so many people have offered not only their money but physical help. The thoughtful messages we received and words of encouragement from family, friends and even strangers is the driving force of our new chapter and reopening."
Reading the comments the donors left in the website, Mr. Yang said his heart became filled with warmth.
"I lost a lot financially, but I feel I earned mentally. I was moved by their kind support and words of encouragement," he said. "Being a beneficiary of donations in this tough time period is a whole new experience. I myself used to be a small donor and donated $10 or $20 whenever I heard about people in need of support. But at that time I didn't realize how my small gesture could translate into a big comfort to the needy people."
The Korean community in Chicago was hit hardest by the riots, partly because the ratio of self-employed people are higher among Koreans than any other ethnic minorities. Some 120 Korean owned shops in the region were damaged by looting, arson and theft.
The experience has changed the Korean community a lot. "Many were looted and some stores were set on fire. Some merchants cried as their decades of hard work suddenly disappeared in the ashes," Yang said.
He said Koreans there are helping each other and cooperating to find ways to rebuild their businesses.
The merchants created a group chat to share information and meeting schedules. They gathered together to discuss how to rebuild their businesses. While meeting and sharing their experiences, once the loosely connected Korean community became closer. "Vendors and retailers are trying to help us and generously extended the deadlines for invoices so that we can take time to repay," he said.
Yang is currently rebuilding his store with the help of his friends and customers and working hard to reopen his business by August 1.