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Portland business owners face down 'make it or break it' holidays as crime surges following pandemic, riots

Portland business owners say this holiday shopping season is more crucial than ever as burglaries, vandalism and other problems have them struggling to stay afloat.

Katherine Sealy considers herself an eternal optimist, but she'll be among the first to admit that it's been an "all hands on deck experience to survive being a small business" in Portland.

"We are going above and beyond running our own businesses to come together as a community, create a wonderful experience to encourage people to come back to downtown and to feel safe," Sealy, who owns Event Cosmetics in downtown Portland, told Fox News.


That extra effort is crucial during the "make it or break it" holiday shopping season, Sealy said.

"It's critical to encourage people to not just enjoy the convenience of shopping online, but to come out and engage with the community because we're still here and we're still excited to see your smiling faces," she said.

Numerous businesses small and large have left Portland in recent months, with owners saying a slow recovery from COVID lockdowns, crime and the homeless crisis are to blame. An outerwear retailer closed in late November after being broken into 15 times, right before the holiday shopping season.

"I've unfortunately seen a lot of my fellow business owners have to close their doors forever," Sealy said.


At the beginning of the year, the advocacy group Bricks Need Mortar surveyed small businesses about the state of their operations. Of the 113 businesses that responded, 63% said they had been broken into or vandalized at least once in the previous 18 months, and 17% reported being hit five times or more.

"That's crazy," said Bricks Need Mortar co-founder Sarah Shaoul, who also runs a career and life coaching business. "And we know that number has gone up."


Sealy said every business owner she knows has had at least one incident. She was targeted by a smash and grab after loading nearly $7,000 of makeup and lighting equipment into her car to provide services at a wedding.

In another incident, Sealy's storefront window was broken. The costly fix was complicated by "the fact that there's a glass shortage in the city" because window smashing is so prevalent, she said.

Nearly three years after the pandemic and 2020 riots, plywood-covered windows are still the norm in some parts of Portland.

"There are some businesses that are afraid to take the boards down still," Shaoul said.

Event Cosmetics is not one of them. Sealy's window is decked out with lights and a Christmas tree, a bright spot on a drizzly December day.

"I don't see the point in giving up because that's not going to change things," Sealy said. "It's not going to make anything better. We just need to find solutions to these problems and pull together as a community."

Shaoul said the city could do more to prevent and prosecute crime. But she does appreciate some of the support that has been provided to local businesses, including a recent event in which the city used federal stimulus money to distribute gift cards to Portlanders that can only be used at small businesses.

"That's just a really great way to encourage people to shop in our small businesses," she said. "This holiday season is truly very, very important for the small business community."

Sealy said she plans to have a happy holiday season and continue hoping for a brighter future in Portland.

"We can't sit at home, you know, and just fall into a depression or woe is me," she said. "We all need to activate and get out there and make it happen. Be what we want to see in the world."

To see the interview with Sealy and Shaoul, click here.

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