Maryam Braun was driving to work on the afternoon of Valentine's Day when police cars and fire trucks sped past. The co-founder of Evolution Martial Arts, a Parkland, Florida, karate school, would soon learn that more than 20 of her customers were under lockdown at the local high school, where a shooter had opened fire and slaughtered several students.

"Parkland is a small community," Braun tells me. "The victims are people that I know, families that walk by my school. Right now, we're all in shock." She adds that, fortunately, none of her own students were injured in the attack.

Many others weren't so lucky. As of Thursday afternoon, as many as 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School--the most deadly such incident since 2012, when 20 students and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Authorities have identified the Parkland gunman as Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at the school with a history of abnormal behavior, and ties to an alt-right white supremacist group.

Staying Open

In the immediate aftermath, more than a dozen local businesses are reeling from the events, and trying to find meaningful ways to support the community. For Evolution Martial Arts, that means business as usual. "Everything is running as usual, and I think that's important," says Braun. "The kids need to get back to their routine and have some sort of normal. Parents right now are struggling to figure out what to do with themselves." The company, which she launched with her husband in Parkland 14 years ago, generates around $250,000 in annual revenue, serving around 200 people.

Andrew Shultz, the founder of a local dance studio called Next Level Performing Arts, takes a similar approach. Although Shultz canceled classes on the afternoon of the shooting and Thursday, he says that he'll be open for business on Friday. "We are going to a dance competition this weekend, so we have to practice," he says. "It sounds trivial, but these kids have been working since August, and I think that just canceling everything could make the situation worse." 

Shultz is concerned, however, about the future of his six-person firm, and the Parkland business climate more generally. Parkland is an affluent suburb of Fort Lauderdale. "When something like this happens--when you hear the word 'Columbine'--people freak out," says the entrepreneur, referring to the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which 12 students and a teacher were murdered. "I'm absolutely concerned about losing business. Now people will be frightened to be here." 

To his point, Orlando saw fewer hotel occupancies in the months after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, according to the industry tracker STR, though overall visitation to the city was higher than in 2015. Given the economic effect of past shootings, it is fair to say that short-term losses are likely in Parkland. Whether the tragedy will hit businesses in the long term is still unknown.

Offering Solace

Other business owners are supporting the community in more subtle ways. Janna Drucker, the founder of a Parkland boutique called Fannies Finds, has a tradition of slipping small trinkets emblazoned with motivational quotes into customers' bags when she senses they're having a hard time. The way she explains it, in a phone call with Inc.: "I can feel when people are hurting." Drucker plans to do this with dozens of customers in the coming days, as the community grieves the loss of its students, peers, and colleagues. "When you're a business owner, you really get to know the residents," Drucker adds. "My role is to provide whatever comfort I can, even if it's small."

Emotions ran high on Thursday, with reactions ranging from fear to sadness and even fury. Indeed, some see such a tragedy as preventable with more legislation that regulates gun ownership. "Of course I'm frustrated. I teach self-defense," Braun, the martial arts entrepreneur, tells me. "I can teach and teach and teach, but nothing can compare to a weapon of that force."

She lets out a long, tortured exhale. "In this day and age, this is the new normal," Braun continues. "I talk to my 4-year-olds about looking for exits and finding things to hide under."

Published on: Feb 15, 2018