Pat Oertle sobbed Tuesday as she stood behind the broken glass of her storefront in Uptown Kenosha, her head in her hands, her body shaking.
“Why did they do this,” cried Oertle, who has owned and operated Computer Adventure sales and service with her husband Eric for 30 years.
The stretch of 22nd Avenue from Roosevelt Road north to 61st Street took a “body blow” Monday night when rioters smashed through storefront windows, looted businesses and set fire to buildings.
Some business owners took it upon themselves to try and protect their property. Robert Cobb, a member of the Danish Brotherhood Lodge, which is a complete loss, was reportedly assaulted while trying to defend the lodge and neighboring mattress shop.
The area smoldered in ruin Tuesday, with firefighters on the scene throughout the day fighting the still active fires. In addition to the lodge, Rode’s Camera Shop, Furniture Warehouse, La Estrella Supermarket, Uptown Beauty and other businesses on the west side of 22nd Avenue look to be a total loss.
History building, records all lost
“I feel like I’ve just lost my whole family,” Rob Nelson, president of the Danish Brotherhood, said, looking at the remains of the historic building that contained the now lost register of those who have been a part of the brotherhood from its beginning 127 years ago.
“We ask the community to keep him in your prayers as he recuperates,” Robert Nelson II, also of the Danish Brotherhood said.
Nelson said the loss of the brotherhood’s historical documents is tragic.
“The irreparable damage done to our building pales in comparison to the loss of the heritage and history contained within,” Robbie said, adding the lodge look to rebuild. “We hope the community can come together as a whole and heal itself despite the chaos that has been unfolding around us.”
Di Michalski, whose husband Jan is the alderman of the Uptown district, took to the street early Tuesday with a shovel and a garbage can to help scoop broken glass off the sidewalks.
“I’ve got a couple people here willing to help,” she said. “I’ve picked up a few volunteers along the way.”
Jan Michalski said he is disheartened by the destruction.
“There are no words to describe how heartsick I am,” Michalski said. “People of all colors have worked so hard to improve the Uptown area. This is just a body blow.”
‘It’s not our community doing it’
Joshua Ferguson, a business leader in the Uptown area who has been working with the Uptown Brass Village Neighborhood Association to improve the area, said it is senseless.
“It’s a downer,” Ferguson, owner of the Sugar Boxx ice cream shop, said. “It’s really sad to see it.”
He described Uptown as “one of the most multicultural communities of business owners.”
“It goes to show it’s not our community doing it,” Ferguson said. “(If you live here) you know Uptown. You know that this parking lot just two week ago (is where they were) giving out free food to the whole community as part of a drive-through food drive. It’s not our people doing it. That’s what really sucks.”
Many in the Uptown area Tuesday said they watched as cars with their license plates blacked out came to Kenosha, attempted to access the downtown area and, when blocked, found their way to Uptown.
Courtney Davis, 40, who lives just off of 22nd Avenue, said Kenosha’s own would not hit the people and businesses of the Uptown area “who are already barely making it.”
In addition to local residents who came forward to help with cleanup, members from a Chicago-based group called Mr. Dad’s Fathers Club came to offer their assistance.
“When you see communities being destroyed and see your people hurting, you want to help,” Joseph Williams, of the group, said.
It is the second time in recent weeks that fire devastated the Uptown area. A historic building that housed eight businesses and multiple apartments was destroyed by fire Aug. 11.
Uptown is one of several older neighborhoods targeted for major redevelopment under a plan created by Mayor John Antaramian.
The $5.1 million Uptown Neighborhood Streetscape Design Project, planned along the 22nd Avenue corridor between 60th Street and 64th Street, was expected to begin in 2021.
The plan is to create 38 additional parking spaces, a landscaped median (similar to 56th Street in HarborPark), upgraded LED lighting, entry columns, pavement designs and improved pedestrian walkways in the Uptown area.
Furguson and others who were working to revitalize the Uptown area acknowledged this is a huge setback, but said they are confident the area will recover.
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