Shopkeepers board businesses in Van Nuys following night of looting

Alejandra Reyes-Velarde
VAN NUYS, CA - JUNE 02: Volunteers work to sort through cases of jewelry inventory in the Don Larry Watch & Jewelry Repair store on Hamlin Street just off Van Nuys Blvd. People roamed the Van Nuys shopping district Tuesday morning to clean up and remove debris in the aftermath of the protest and looting of businesses along Van Nuys Blvd as numerous stores were attacked and at least one set on fire. Protestors again gathered in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak to protest the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died last week in police custody after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him down by his neck for several minutes. Van Nuys on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 in Van Nuys, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)  (Al Seib/Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

On Tuesday afternoon, Anastasia Azaryan was painting the words “we are open,” along with her family restaurant's phone number, in big lilac letters on the wooden boards covering the front of Kebab and Pizza Time on Van Nuys Boulevard.

Azaryan, 39, said the protests in Van Nuys on Monday, which started peacefully, had left her shaken.

Some had come to her asking if they could have drinks.

“Are you a protester?” she asked. When they said yes, she gave them free drinks from the restaurant's refrigerator.

But then, the interactions got more aggressive. One group took almost her entire inventory.

“They grabbed drinks and left. I was afraid,” she said. “I removed everything I could from [the restaurant]. I was afraid they would put it on fire.”

When another crowd came by minutes later and found nothing in the fridge, they grew angry and shoved tables and chairs, breaking some items.

Peaceful protests began in the city at 7:30 a.m., with demonstrators chanting the name of George Floyd and asking for justice. The majority who spent the day at the intersection of Van Nuys and Sylvan Street left just before a countywide curfew went into effect in the evening.

But by 5 p.m., looting had begun to mar the scene.

Several business owners stood outside their storefronts, and some put up plywood over their windows. Multiple shops hung signs reading “BLM,” expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

On Tuesday, many of the signs remained. Some, like Azaryan's, announced they were open and asked patrons to enter through rear doors. Passersby offered to help Azaryan and other store owners clean up the mess left behind from protesters. But many businesses were closed.

Azaryan said she'd had no orders by early afternoon. She patted her phone in her pocket, signaling she was waiting for customers while she painted.

She said hoped that people driving in Van Nuys would see the sign and call in for food.

She had delivered five boxes of hamburgers to police officers in Van Nuys and North Hollywood earlier in the day.

“The police did excellent job,” she said. “We are all proud of them.”

Azaryan hasn’t been able to take out any loans to help pay her rent, and the few orders she does get each week hardly pay for her utilities.

Making kebabs and other meals is also becoming more expensive as the price of meat increases, she said. And now, to add to the hardship, she fears protesters are scaring even more customers away.

“There’s no business. We lost 90% of money. Our landlord wants full money for rent. It seems like no one cares about small businesses," she said.

“I just sit here because there’s no customers. This is my last hope.”