“I have a smile on my face today I didn’t have before,” said Smart Move Furniture owner Shavonne Sahara after receiving a $3,000 check from Arsiak Vartenian and Candice Payne in her 51st Street store Friday afternoon.
Vartenian and Payne were at the store in Grand Boulevard distributing part of the $10,500 they had raised to benefit South Side businesses that were looted and vandalized during the riots that followed the killing of George Floyd.
“It’ll help us a lot,” added Sahara as she was interviewed for a WGN special following the donation. “The small token that they gave us will go a very long way.”
On May 30, Sahara was settling in for the evening with her family in their Englewood home when the phone started to ring. “People were calling, saying, ‘They breaking into your store.’ ”
Sahara rushed to Smart Move Furniture, located near 51st Street and Indiana Ave.
“We was trying to get through the crowd,” said Sahara as she told the story. “We couldn’t get through the crowd.”
“When I did make it, the police was in here, the looters was in here, it was terrifying, it was scary,” she said, looking around the now rather empty storefront space. “You know, you could see the furniture, they had taken it out the back door, like, it was literally lined up.
“The police was scared. They were like, ‘Get out.’ They had to leave. And, I am like, ‘What am I supposed to do, how am I supposed to make the report?’ They was like, ‘Call 311.’
“It’s been hard,” said Sahara as she paused.
Across the city on May 30, real estate entrepreneur Arsiak Vartenian was in her Logan Square neighborhood home with her husband watching the riots and looting unfold on TV. “I felt helpless,” said Vartenian.
Vartenian called Payne, a friend and real estate entrepreneur whom she had known to be active in efforts to help the homeless. “I want to donate $5,000 to these businesses, cuz it’s breaking my heart to see all this happening in our city,” she told her.
“Candice put it on her social media, and then people just started, you know, reaching out to her,” said Vartenian. “And that’s when the GoFundMe page started.”
After the fundraising campaign was underway, Vartenian and Payne started looking for businesses that were uninsured, or under-insured, that had been looted.
“We kinda hit a roadblock,” said Vartenian who was getting requests from business owners that had insurance and who owned their own homes.
At the same time, Payne and her fiancé were looking for furniture for a building they had purchased and rehabilitated for the homeless.
Payne posted on Instagram that she was “Looking for a Black-owned furniture company.” Vartenian saw the post and tagged Sahara, with whom she was acquainted.
Payne then contacted Sahara. “And although she was willing to help, she let me know what she was going through,” said Payne.
“And I was like, man, it just aligned. I had just gotten off the phone with Arsi talking about how she wanted to help businesses that had been looted. And I am on a call with [Sahara] and she is talking about how even though she has been looted, she can still help.”
“It was like a happy marriage,” said Payne.
“It’s people like, you know, Smart Move Furniture and Shavonne that needed it the most,” said Vartenian. “They didn’t get a lot of the government funding. They didn’t have the insurance.”
“One of the stories I heard with every individual that I spoke to was pretty much the same. ‘You know what, we were closed for three months with Covid, and we just, we (had) to pay our other bills, so we let our insurance go,’ ” recounted Vartenian.
“And boom, the minute they let their insurance go, they looted and rioted,” added Vartenian. She and Payne ended up donating money to six businesses in total, including a hair salon in Auburn Gresham and a caterer in West Englewood.
“This does give me hope,” said Sahara. “And, it gives me more hope than, you know, I expected. Because, at first, I didn’t have any hope that nobody (would) hear our story, or, (I) wonder we’ll go unnoticed, but, (now) you know how it all got started.”
“It has been so inspiring to see how Chicago does come together,” said Vartenian. “There is a lot of good in this city. And that needs to be told.”