On Monday morning, merchants and Overbrook Park residents were still waiting for Philadelphia police to show up at their local — and looted — shopping center, but they were not waiting to clean up.
The day before and into the night, locals on both sides of City Avenue at the plaza bisected by 77th Street had watched the daylong looting going on there. On Monday at 7 a.m., they arrived with brooms, dustpans, and trash bags. By mid-morning, they had cleaned up most of the broken glass and debris strewn in front of damaged stores.
These included Dollar Tree, Ross, Snipes, a state liquor store, Wingstop, Omnia Nail Spa, and a pair of beauty supply stores. Just north, the CVS Pharmacy at Haverford and City Avenue was also broken into.
The cleanup there Monday was a scene repeated across the city as residents and merchants banded together to repair damaged business areas.
At the strip mall at 77th Street, Overbrook Park resident Malik Johnson said the impromptu campaign seemed like the right thing to do.
“This is our community,” he said. “This is where we live.”
Witnesses said the looters ransacked the stores for hour after hour Sunday into Monday morning, essentially unhampered by any police presence. A reporter at the scene Sunday evening saw a stream of thieves move from store to store and exit laden with goods. In many cases, the looters drove to the plaza in groups and would then ferry goods out to the vehicles, making repeated trips.
No Philadelphia police could be seen anywhere near the plaza. For their part, Lower Merion police stood watch Sunday night on the Montgomery County side of City Avenue, lining up in front of township stores and keeping to their side of the county line. The stores on that side of the street were left untouched.
Lower Merion Police Superintendent Michael McGrath said township officers had assisted Philadelphia Police at separate locations in other disturbances related to the ongoing unrest. The department has also assisted police in Limerick and King of Prussia in recent days, he said.
He said the department is sometimes forced to make difficult decisions about how to deploy limited resources, just as the city has had to do in recent days. And although officers can legally cross into another jurisdiction if they witness a crime, they have to weigh the consequences of leaving their current post unguarded.
At one point, Johnson said, a Lower Merion police cruiser took a brief spin through the parking lot, and the looters briefly dispersed but returned as soon as the police vehicle departed.
Rita’s Water Ice in the plaza was untouched, and a manager provided free treats to the crew of neighbors. “We’re the one
s that care,” said fellow cleanup volunteer Larry Singleton, also of Overbrook Park.
Further north in the plaza at a TJ Maxx, workers had begun tacking plywood to the storefront. They planned to have all of the stores boarded up by day’s end.
Johnson said he hopes that happens. People were still wandering in and out of the damaged Ross store at 10 a.m., and he said he was worried about a return of bandits in larger numbers.
Some looters seemed especially unhinged, he said, at times smashing into each other’s cars as they hurried in and out of the parking lot. He said he hoped the damage wouldn’t get worse — and that no one used fuel or lighter fluid to get through the new plywood barriers.
“My biggest fear is fire,” he said, adding that at some point soon, police or private security guards need to show up.
Next to the water ice store, Dean Zenedine was cleaning up his computer repair shop, one that he’s operated for 18 years.
He had watched helplessly on surveillance cameras as thieves hit his store the previous midnight, breaking through a metal grate, then again at 2 a.m.
He fixes old computers and cell phones, items of value mainly for the folks who bring them in for repair.
Zenedine said it was clear that most of the looters had driven in from other neighborhoods.
“I know everyone here,” he said. “These people who did this don’t know us.”
He was appalled by some of what he witnessed — such as a woman leaving a baby in a car while she ran into the liquor store to steal.
“That,” he said, “is not good.”
Lee Teng, manager of the damaged Omnia nail salon in the plaza, said that before the looting, he had had tentative plans to reopen in a few weeks. Now, all that is on hold. As he spoke, workers were covering his windows with plywood.
“We don’t know when we’ll be open,” he said.