PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — By the look of it, there was no indication on Wednesday that Eno Fine Wines & Spirits in Providence had been destructively looted just one day earlier.
“It still smells like tequila a little bit,” manager Aubrie Talarico said. “But it’s not too bad.”
Talarico says someone threw a brick through the store’s window in the early hours of Tuesday, and looters stole around $5,000 worth of liquor. The business was one of dozens damaged by a group of looters that started at the Providence Place mall, branching out to hit stores downtown and across the city.
The shattered window at Eno was already replaced by Wednesday, but stores up and down Westminster still bore telltale wooden boards, covering up broken windows and doors from the looting. At Modern Love & Queen of Hearts, adjoining sister stores owned by Karen Beebe, looters smashed a side window and stole hats, backpacks, the computer at the register and an iPad, among other merchandise.
“Every time we turn around we notice that something else is gone,” said Beebe. “It’s going to take days to figure out how much.”
Tuesday had been the first day Beebe planned to open the store to customers after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, she was met with overturned shelves, broken glass and destruction.
“It’s just upsetting,” Beebe said. “These are small businesses that work really hard.”
But both Beebe and Talarico said they were much more concerned about the death of George Floyd, for which four Minneapolis police officers have now been charged. Both stores — and many others up and down the street — have “Black Lives Matter” posters in their windows.
“I don’t want the focus to necessarily be on my things that are gone,” Beebe said. “Those can be replaced, we have insurance. I just want people to continue to support the movement, the real message. There are peaceful protesters. That’s not what this was. … This was organized looting.”
“It seems like it was organized by people who just wanted to cause chaos,” Talarico said. “Which is why they were pretty indiscriminate about the businesses that they affected.”
In a Providence Police report about the events, the group was initially described as “hundreds of protestors taking over Francis Street, completely blocking the roads.” But the situation escalated, with people starting to throw “bottles and rocks” at police, according to the report.
“Protesting turned to rioting and encouraged looting,” the report said. People were seen streaming into Providence Place, looting multiple stores and leaving with iPads and sneakers. (A mall spokesperson declined on Wednesday to discuss the extent of the damage inside, but said the mall would be closed through Friday.)
A police cruiser was torched and burned to a crisp, and police deployed tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Mayor Jorge Elorza and Gov. Gina Raimondo immediately denounced the riots Tuesday morning, insisting they were not protests but organized attacks on the city. Police are still investigating who organized the mayhem, but State Police Col. James Manni described the organizers as having anarchist leanings.
The people initially arrested at the scene were charged with crimes such as disorderly conduct and receiving stolen goods. The investigation into who instigated the riots is ongoing.
Elorza instituted a multi-day 9 p.m. curfew on Tuesday night, and Raimondo activated the R.I. National Guard. Military vehicles were seen in the streets and guarding the State House, and National Guard helicopters circled above the city.
“Last night was a very peaceful night in the state of Rhode Island,” Raimondo said at her daily coronavirus news conference on Wednesday. “It could have been much, much worse. But it wasn’t. Because we were prepared.”
She also said her Commerce Department is offering to help any businesses affected by the looting.
“These are businesses that have been closed for months. They are just getting back on their feet,” Raimondo said .”The visual of seeing the COVID plan and the ‘we’re back open’ and the smashed window is so difficult to see.”
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said there were very few issues Tuesday night, and no one was cited or arrested for breaking the curfew. (A total of nine arrests were made overnight, according to spokesperson Lindsay Lague, none of which were related to the curfew.)
The curfew remains in place each night until June 9, with multiple exceptions for people traveling to work or for necessities like medical care, and the National Guard Reaction Force remains deployed to respond to any civil unrest.
A protest is scheduled to take place on Friday, putting some on edge that more looting could occur. But others are optimistic for a peaceful day demonstrating against racial injustice.
Talarico, the liquor store manager, said she plans to attend.
“The conversation should be about Black Lives Matter right now and what’s going on this country,” she said. “I don’t know if the looting is meant to distract us … but it is distracting us from what’s really important, which is people’s lives. Not stuff.”