Reopening not yet reality for Black-owned Oakland retailers damaged by looters during protests

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- At Queen Hippie Gypsy, crystals glitter on the store shelves, incense sticks burn, and Black art adorns the walls of this cozy downtown Oakland store.

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"We are Oakland's first Black-owned crystal botanica," says owner Lilly Ayers proudly. Open for less than two years, the unique store was thriving as a provider of spiritual healing products and services. Ayers' husband, Kyrah, left his own career to help his wife's shop full time in January, and they were just about to hire a team of staff before the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to shutter in March.

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The Ayers successfully launched an online shop, shipping orders from their living room. As Oakland retail restrictions loosened, Queen Hippie Gypsy reopened for curbside pickups. Ayers strategized how her store would operate when retail would be allowed to reopen to the public. Besides the usual measures -- strict customer/employee mask policy, extra sanitizing, limiting in-store headcount -- Ayers realized her skills as a healer would provide an extra degree of safety for her customers.

"We are absolutely thinking 'no touch' of any of the merchandise," Ayers says. "Folks give us what they're looking for, what their intentions are, and we can guide them to the stone they need without ever touching a stone."

Unlike many retail shops in the Bay Area, however, Queen Hippie Gypsy has had to postpone its public reopening. Their storefront windows were shattered on the night of May 29, as looters damaged and destroyed properties in downtown Oakland in the wake of protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

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The morning after, an emotional Ayers went on Instagram Live to detail what happened to her business.

"I just energetically felt the hurt," Ayers says. "If folks were only here for Black Lives Matter, they would have not damaged the windows." Instead of boarding up her storefront, Ayers left the windows as-is, as a silent protest against those who violated Black-owned businesses in Oakland.

At the suggestion of its supporters, Queen Hippie Gypsy decided to launch its first online fundraiser on GoFundMe. In just days, the business collected over $30,000 in donations, enough to cover the property damage, and fund changes to help bring the store up to COVID-19-related regulations.

"We're so grateful, and all we're going to do is pour it right back into the community." Ayers says. "We're going to succeed." Queen Hippie Gypsy has already hired two new employees, and plans a full reopening to the public on its 2nd anniversary in early July.

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