By Frank Fitzpatrick The Philadelphia Inquirer
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Jewelry store owner Angela Monaco is still processing the destruction of her store which ironically sold healing crystals. Some of the crystals were used by the looters to smash through her glass display cases.
Amid the damage and disillusionment left behind after Saturday night's disturbances, Angela Monaco discovered one tiny irony in the rubble of her Philadelphia jewelry boutique:
Some of the objects the looters used to smash the Ritual Shoppe's display cases were healing crystals.
"I have a picture of all those broken crystals," Monaco said. "It's so symbolic."
For Monaco, like many devastated retailers in the wake of the widespread looting that whirled like a tornado through downtown Philadelphia this past weekend, the hours since have been marked by sleeplessness, confusion, uncertainty.
She's still waiting for the fearful adrenaline rush to subside, for the damage to be assessed, for that moment when decisions have to be made. She's been torn by her dismay over the fate of the business she's built and by the kinship she feels for those whose grievances sparked the looting and fires.
"I understand the anger and frustration, I really do," she said. "I understand protesting. I even understand some sort of rioting. But being a small-business owner that's already been through so much with the pandemic and now this ... I don't know. Obviously, I want everyone to be treated fairly and that hasn't been happening in the world. But it's so scary and so sad what happened to our city, to other cities, to this country."
The looted shop in the Rittenhouse Square area was the third iteration of the business Monaco, a 35-year-old art school-trained jewelry designer, started a decade ago on Third Street in Northern Liberties. After a few years, she rebranded as the Ritual Shoppe and moved to a larger, nearby location on Second Street.
In 2018, when the landlord decided to sell, she faced a choice: Buy the building or sign a five-year lease. Instead, she moved when the storefront at 2003 Walnut St., 1,100 square feet if you include the basement, became available.
"It wasn't a neighborhood that ever felt attainable to me," she said. "I always thought, 'My God, I can't afford to be in Rittenhouse.' But it was affordable for us so we moved in. And it's been great there."
The eclectic shop sold jewelry handcrafted by its owner and other local designers. There were ceramics and beauty items from Philadelphia artisans, healing and wellness objects, candles, tarot cards. She staged workshops there, classes, art shows.
"I do this because I love bringing people together," she said. "We have employees of all different ethnicities. We have an LGBTQ employee. Some of my favorite customers are 75, others are 20. They're all kind and welcoming. We were never really all about the commerce. The things we sell have meaning and purpose and spark conversations. It's a really beautiful place. Even when the pandemic hit, it was hard for us to give up those interpersonal connections."
Last Saturday, Monaco, a resident of the Art Museum area, was at her store before, during and after the disorder erupted.
That afternoon, while a few employees attended the downtown Philadelphia protest over the death of George Floyd, she was packing online orders there. Toward evening, she left and drove to her nearby studio for some work and a takeout dinner with her boyfriend. That's when she learned police cars had been set on fire downtown.
"We quickly went to the shop and grabbed my laptop and my backpack," she said. "We shut the gate and we left. Later, at home, I got a call from a jewelry friend who warned me that shops on Chestnut Street were getting looted."
Again, Monaco and her boyfriend raced to Walnut Street. The metal gate over the shop's 12-foot front window had been forced up and the window shattered. Witnesses told them a looter with a baseball bat had broken the window. Looking inside, she saw looters and noticed that many of the large crystals had been used to batter open display cases. Broken glass and merchandise were scattered everywhere.
"There were people picking through the stuff," she said. "Other people were trying to jump through my window to further loot. I'd yell and they'd run. It was crazy.
"We'd just completely remodeled. Everything was so clean. I know that's not important in the grand scheme, but it hurt. I was in shock and started crying. You can't help the emotions that come out when you experience trauma like that."
Stepping through the debris, she grabbed precious items and stuffed them into bags. While much of her merchandise was decorative or fine-art jewelry, there was, she said, some gold and diamonds.
"We eventually got all of the remaining jewelry out of there, threw it in my boyfriend's car and took it to a safe place," she said. "I felt like I'd robbed my own store."
Before departing, Monaco enlisted passers-by to help her re-close the gate. She rewarded them with a large crystal.
"They were looking at me like, 'What?'"
Once the valuables were safely deposited, she returned to find the gate had been reopened and a new wave of looters had struck. She summoned a few friends to stand guard over what remained of her store, then called a restoration company to board it up.
"It was probably crazy to stay, but if we would have left, my whole store would have probably been destroyed and every piece of merchandise would have been torn out of there," she said. "The boarding company people were so nice to come out in a situation like that. They arrived about 10 and we didn't get it boarded up till midnight. There were still crowds of people coming around and looking for stores that had already been broken into."
Monaco finally went home, but when she spoke to a reporter on Monday afternoon the adrenaline rush hadn't fully ebbed.
"It's not a good feeling," she said.
Her emotions are raw and complex.
She remains an ally of the Black Lives Matter movement. "I hear the anger and the rage," Monaco said. "I'll never be able to fully understand it given my white privilege, but I am doing my part to stay educated and share useful resources."
For now, she says, she will keep the shop shuttered. Then, one day, she'll travel through a downtown that's been altered forever, put a key in the door, and face a decision she never contemplated when the store opened in November 2018.
"My No. 1 plan right now is to just take care of myself. It's been a lot. A lot of trauma," she said. "We're going to stay boarded up for a few days. We're going to take a pause on commerce. I've instructed employees and our social-media people not to post anything unless it's about how to sign petitions or support causes.
"But I honestly don't know what will happen next. It's only been hours since all this happened," she said. "I'm definitely someone that doesn't give up. I probably won't stop making jewelry. That's kind of an obsession and I have an entire studio filled with supplies. But it's hard to imagine us being able to reopen and feeling OK about it."
Whatever the decision, she said, those crystals will help in the process. "I believe they're very healing," Monaco said. "They've helped me a lot in my life, body, mind and spirit. I have an autoimmune disease and I carry one around with me for writing paper inflammation and pain. And there are some that help with focus. I'll need them." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.