Thank you, Jeff Brown of ShopRite and the Pa. 30 Day Fund, for helping looted businesses

Jenice Armstrong

June 10, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mohammed Rahman lost the business he had spent four years building in one hour earlier this month, when vandals descended upon SNS Electronics & Discount and started taking things as his horrified parents watched.

“They looted everything. They left nothing. They smashed everything. They broke everything in the store. Took all of the merchandise. There’s nothing left. The store is like empty now. They took TVs, computers, cell phones, speakers,” recalled Rahman, whose business is on the 200 block of South 52nd Street. “That’s the only income we had, but now everything is gone. I was not insured.”

He hopes to reopen.

That job will be a little easier thanks to Jeff Brown, president and CEO of Brown’s Superstores Inc. and the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund.

After thieves looted and trashed his Fox Street and Parkside stores following peaceful protests about the death of George Floyd, Brown didn’t let that sour him on all of the good work he’s been doing in underserved communities. If anything, he doubled down by helping out small businesses that were similarly ransacked.

Brown is doing it in conjunction with real estate developer Jeffrey A. Bartos, among others who established the 30 Day Fund last month to assist small businesses badly hit during the COVID-19 shutdown.

The idea is to help small business owners otherwise ineligible for government loans or grants to quickly get access to cash without having to go through a lot of bureaucracy. Each grantee gets a forgivable loan of $3,000.

I’m happy to report that the fund will now also help small business owners hurt by looting as well. In addition to the forgivable loans, the fund is also connecting owners with contractors and other possible funding sources.

Bartos and I talked about this new development on Monday in the parking lot of Brown’s Parkside store during its reopening celebration. It was noisy, so he had to yell over the din of the crowd about all the donations that have been pouring in: a $1,000 contribution from a Philadelphia police officer who wrote, “I’m devastated to see what happened to the small businesses in the neighborhoods. I’m so sorry we couldn’t be there to protect everybody,” and a $1 million contribution from Ira Lubert, chairman of Lubert Adler Real Estate Partners, and his companion Pam Estadt.

Glancing over in Brown’s direction, I was beyond awed.

The windows of the Parkside store were still boarded up, and the National Guard that he had begged to protect his business was still there.

Yet, Brown and his associates and donors were talking about ways to help small business owners like Rahman open up.

“Last Monday, when Jeff told our board what had happened to his stores, especially Parkside and Fox Street, I was angry,” Bartos recalled. “I was devastated, and I started to question what exactly it is that we are doing here. I went for a walk, and I came back and I called Jeff and said, ‘How are you doing?’ He said, ‘We’re OK. Thank God nobody was hurt. We’ll rebuild.’ And then he said, ‘We have to double down. There’s that many more people we have to help.’ I was floored, and I just thought, ‘There’s not that many people on Earth like Jeff Brown.’ All the anger dropped out, and I was like, ‘OK, we have a mission. Let’s get to work.’ “

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being impressed — not just by Brown but by Bartos and all who’ve donated to this fund.

When it was time to go, I drove away feeling full — not just because of all the food we had just purchased from Brown but also by the outpouring of love for a community that only days earlier had been the scene of so much destruction.