Baltimore Businesses Look Forward After Unrest

Peaceful protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody turned violent over the weekend, with images of smashed police cars, shattered storefront windows, and a looted and burning CVS being broadcast live on national TV. Schools were shut down on Tuesday, and a 10 p.m. curfew is in effect all week. 

JCK spoke with Ron Samuelson, owner of the downtown Baltimore jewelry store Samuelson’s Diamonds, about how the protests and riots have affected his business. 

“There hasn’t been any activity on our block,” he said. “Most of the unrest is in the residential neighborhoods.” But it wasn’t always clear that it would stay that way. The store closed on Saturday at 4 p.m. as usual, but it wasn’t until after everyone was home that things started escalating.

Samuelson was glued to his iPhone, through which he can monitor the store’s security cameras and check in with the University of Maryland and Baltimore City police departments.

The store, which is closed on Mondays, reopened Tuesday, and it was back to business. “We actually had a great day yesterday, we were doing business in the store,” he said. But it’s too early to estimate the long-term effects of the weekend’s events. “I can’t say that we won’t lose some customers over it,” he said. “Will there be people that will be scared to come down and see us? Will I lose a diamond appointment here and there? I just don’t know yet. It will be a while before we know the effects, I think.” 

Samuelson says that he feels the worst is passed and that it’s taking a turn. “I don’t think you can compare this to the riots of 1968,” he says. 

In 1968, the city saw violence and rioting for a week following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Samuelson’s father and grandfather slept on the floor of the store to protect it from looters. At one point, a group of people did come to the store, but when they saw that there were people there, they moved on. “I know my mom and grandmother were unhappy by that decision, but that is what they did,” he says.

“We are committed to Baltimore and staying downtown,” he says. “We just remodeled our store, and the family has other properties and development projects in the area. I think we are the only jeweler left in downtown Baltimore. Everybody else has moved out to the suburbs. But we are committed financially and emotionally to this city.

Samuelson’s may be the only jeweler in downtown Baltimore, but it is getting some industry company this spring as Pandora moves its national headquarters to the city. “The events will not have an impact on our planned move,” Scott Burger, president of the Americas for Pandora, tells JCK. Most departments have already moved to the new location, and the marketing team will move in the first week in May.

“I’m saddened by the recent events in Baltimore. I grew up just north of the city, so Baltimore has always been a special place to me,” Burger says. “I look forward to putting these events behind us so we can focus on bringing the city back together. We are excited to get into the city and show our support for the local community.”

Samuelson’s Diamonds isn’t affected by the 10 p.m. curfew, but Samuelson said that local restaurants and bars would be hurting. “As a company, we just donated to a music venue so that the staff can get paid—it had to cancel five shows next week. We are helping other businesses in the community,” he says. 

“The best thing we can do, and anyone who wants to help Baltimore can do, is to support local businesses,” he says. “People say, ‘What can I do, can I go to a cleanup, can I give money to a local charity?,’ and I think the best thing is to come down and show that you support Baltimore city, that you will go out and shop, that you will go to restaurants, that you are not afraid and will support local businesses.”

“We are looking to be a part of the community and rebuild and move forward,” Samuelson says. “We are just hoping that it will just make everybody stronger.”