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Black store owner calls looting ‘devastating’

LOS ANGELES — For clothing store owner Martez Malone, the events of May 31 were unexpected and devastating, but not life-altering.

Malone, the owner of Yekim, a premier urban luxury brand clothing store located on a trendy strip on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, woke to the news that in the midst of a peaceful protest march for justice held in response to last week’s horrifying death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, there was a band of looters breaking into stores.

“I wasn’t thinking about Melrose,” said Malone who opened the store six years ago in one of the most exclusive retail corridors in Los Angeles. “I had no reason to think they’d come this way.”

His son’s mother, who was watching the news, called to tell Malone the protestors and looters who were in downtown Los Angeles were heading to the Melrose area and that he should protect his store.

Malone, 36, went to the store and since he didn’t see any looters, he thought it was safe. He didn’t go inside because he realized a friend of his had the keys.

He posted a video on Instagram stating it was a black-owned store. Since it seemed like there wouldn’t be any trouble, he went home and took a nap only to be awakened at 6 p.m. to hear a mob of individuals had smashed the big store window at his flagship location and stolen upwards of $500,000 worth of inventory. 

Authorities have said opportunistic groups from out of town, not the peaceful protestors, have raided stores — including some black-owned small businesses.

“There were curtains covering the windows so you couldn’t see what was in the store,” said Malone, who is thought to be one of the only black-owned clothing stores in the area. “I think it was random. I don’t think and I hope it wasn’t targeted. I don’t think it was because every single store was hit.”

On Instagram, Malone posted: Everything I worked hard for. One thing about my life is God has put me thru many challenges that he helped me overcome plus more!!! I will be  #Blessed beyond measures after this. Whoever did this, this is just a minor setback for a major comeback. #Yekim will be bigger than ever after this. #GodGotMe #Blessed

“At the end of the day, God is the ruler and he will make sure everything is OK,” Malone said. “I got my faith in God. I’m praying for everybody in the world and pray all of this is over with soon.”

As devastating as it was to see his store in shambles, Malone said because of his faith, the incident has not destroyed his spirit.

“This is like small things to a giant,” said Malone, a Chicago native who moved to Los Angeles seven years ago to make a better life for himself. “I’m not upset. God has me. This isn’t going to break me. I’m going to come back bigger and better.”

Ironically, Yekim, which is Mikey, Malone’s son’s name spelled backward, had been closed since March due to the coronavirus but was scheduled to reopen June 1.

Undeterred, Malone, a fashion designer for the last six years who funded his initial inventory using the crowd-funding platform Kickfurther, plans to reopen the store and bring back his six employees in a month or two once he’s able to restart production to make new clothes. His jackets, T-shirts, jeans, track suits and leather jackets range from $100-$1,500.

Fortunately, the looters didn’t tear up the interior of Malone’s store. They just stole high-end, street wear made popular by Malone’s celebrity friends including DJ Khaled, juicewrld999, Future, Nikki Minaj, and many others in the music industry. Initially, Yekim was an exclusive custom brand Malone made for celebrity clients before he decided to produce a line for retail customers.

“I understand what’s going on,” said Malone, the father of three sons (17, 9 and 3) and a 7-year-old daughter. “I stand with Black Lives Matter. There is a lot going on. The economy is not going to be the same for a while. I’m taking a loss, but everybody is taking a loss. It is what it is. I guess I don’t consider this a loss because people were fighting for justice. This is stuff. George Floyd’s life can’t come back, but the goods we all lost can.”

Although he has yet to talk to his children about the Floyd video and the protests, Malone said he plans to. He said one of the reasons he has worked so hard was to give his children a better life than he had growing up in Chicago’s inner city around killers and drug dealers, which at the age of 21 ended with him doing an 18-month stretch in federal prison.

“I don’t want my kids to come up like I did,” said Malone, who was released from prison in 2007. “I try to keep them away from those kinds of things. I eventually left Chicago because I always wanted to be somebody. I realized that certain things will only get you certain places. The streets were not for me. I didn’t want to go down that path which leads to either jail or dead. I always said I wasn’t going back.”

When Malone saw the video of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd, he said it wasn’t “unlike what lack people have always been going through.”

“We’ve been going through this forever,” said Malone. “What can we do to stop it? It doesn’t look like there is anything we can do. As a black man coming up, I understand how far they really want us to go. As black people, we will go farther than they think. It’s hard to talk about it.

“Right now the government can see that the citizens outnumber the law,” Malone said. “They have to give us justice so people can be happy or they will see more of the same things happening.”

Malone, who doesn’t blame anyone specifically for his setback, said since he can’t control things, he chooses not to let his current situation get him down.

“All I can do is just move forward and make the best of it,” he said. “I can’t cry and mope. I gotta figure out my next move. I can’t disappoint my family members or my employees who are counting on me. I got to keep it moving.”

Malone started a GoFundMe page “Restore Yekim.” He is hoping to raise $80,000 to replace his inventory.