WORTHINGTON — The “Moment for Peace Solidarity March” planned to start at 5 p.m. today in Worthington has created concern for several Worthington businesses who have taken action to board up windows, barricade property and close early out of an abundance of caution and for the safety of employees.
As of Tuesday afternoon, sheets of plywood covered windows at Demuth Insurance Agency and Hy-Vee Gas. Semi trailers were parked in front of Spomer Classics and Avera Medical Group Worthington, and numerous stores and restaurant drive-thrus were closing early.
Schwalbach Ace Hardware closed at 1 p.m., Hy-Vee and Walmart announced 3:30 p.m. closures and Runnings was closing early but hadn’t yet decided on a time by early this afternoon.
Deb Steinle, manager at Schwalbach Ace Hardware, said the decision was made Monday to close early “out of precaution and for the safety of employees.”
“I just hope everything goes well for the protest. As long as it goes peaceful, that’s wonderful,” Steinle said.
While the hardware store isn’t directly along the route of the march, Marthaler Chevrolet is. Employees there spent part of today moving new cars from the front row of their car lot to a secondary lot. They closed at 3 p.m.
Meanwhile, their eastern neighbor, Runnings, has removed some merchandise from its lot and barricaded other items, said assistant manager Lori Klassen.
“I just hope everyone stays safe and it’s a nice, peaceful protest,” Klassen said.
In downtown Worthington, several blocks from where the march will begin and end, business owner Laura Shefte has also taken some precautions. She’s removed the gowns from the front window display at Fairytale Formal, and changed the direction of security cameras at Family Value, just in case there may be unwelcome activity this evening. Both businesses are closed for the day.
“I just hope everything is truly peaceful,” said Shefte. “I support (the marchers, but) I also know I’m concerned for my businesses. Just watching other cities, it hasn’t ended peacefully. I think that’s put a lot of fear in business owners, seeing what’s happened in other cities.”
Shefte said local businesses have already been financially affected by COVID-19 and can’t afford to have additional damage.
“It would be very disheartening to see that happen to our community when we’ve already struggled so much,” she added.
Marching in peace
The concerns of business owners aren't lost on march organizer Cheniqua Johnson, but she stressed this afternoon the plan is for a peaceful protest.
“There are some businesses that are worried and concerned,” Johnson said. “We hear that, but we also know we have faith in our community to do the right thing.”
Johnson said the fear that has caused some local businesses to board up windows or close early is the same sort of fear young people in the community — especially in the black community — felt after watching video replay of George Floyd’s murder on television a little more than a week ago.
“We want people to step outside their comfort zone — we hope that people will talk to people today on the (march) and ask folks questions and engage with the community,” Johnson said.
In response to rumors of busloads of protesters coming to Worthington today, Johnson said, “We have not organized buses to come from anywhere. The organizers are not affiliated with or are planning any buses coming in from Sioux Falls, Minneapolis or any other neighboring city.”
Johnson’s goal is to see at least 100 participants at the march, but after seeing a positive community response, she’s hoping for more.
She expressed appreciation for businesses who choose to remain open and offer water to marchers, saying she sees their actions as a sign of solidarity. Both Max 493 and Bob and Steve’s Holiday have said they will have water available along the route. The temperature at 5 p.m. is expected to be above 90 degrees, with a 40% to 50% chance of thunderstorms from 5 to 7 p.m.
Participants, who have been asked to wear white T-shirts, will begin gathering for the march at 4 p.m. today at the Worthington High School parking lot on Marine Avenue. The march is slated to begin at 5 p.m., and will proceed from the high school parking lot north to Oxford Street, east to Omaha Avenue and then back west on Oxford Street to Marine Avenue.
Upon the return to the high school, Johnson will speak, as will Aida Simon, Mike Potter and a couple of local youths.
Worthington Police Chief Troy Appel confirmed with Johnson that he would be joining marchers in the peaceful protest. She said Worthington city officials, police officers, Nobles County commissioners and Sheriff Kent Wilkening have all been invited, as have District 22 Sen. Bill Weber and District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton.
Plans for the solidarity march came together on Sunday, when Johnson joined a multi-generational gathering in Worthington to talk about the death of Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and the desire of local individuals to participate in a protest.
“Being able to express the feelings they are feeling in a peaceful and safe way was our No. 1 priority,” Johnson said, adding that having the protest in Worthington gives people an opportunity to walk in unity with the community and express their feelings in a place where they feel safe.
At the same time, Johnson sees today’s event as a way to intentionally start having conversations that are difficult to have in Worthington — conversations about race, ethnicity, culture, diversity and instances of abuse in the criminal justice system.
“The purpose of today is to be able to start a larger conversation around what we can do collectively as a community to ensure that all youth and all community members — especially, in times like, this our black community members and our communities of color — feel supported by our allies in our community, feel welcomed by our community, and also know that if we have fear, if we have concern for our lives, that our police officers and our police department, our county and city electeds will be there to support us and will be there to hear us and we can do something that doesn’t need to be violent before we have an actual problem,” Johnson said.