This article appeared in the August 31, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Why talk of looting moved a shopkeeper to give

Janet Hostetter/AP/File
Spices pack a Penzeys store in St. Paul, Minnesota. Founder Bill Penzey has inserted himself into the conversation about racial equality, vowing to donate the equivalent of his Kenosha, Wisconsin, store’s inventory to organizations seeking change after the Jacob Blake shooting there.
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

If you’re a home cook then you’ve probably heard of Penzeys Spices. 

Bill Penzey launched the company in the late 1980s in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, as a mail-order operation. Mr. Penzey, an activist capitalist, peppered his early catalogs with his politics and never stopped letting people know where he stood.

As befits a culinary alchemist, he’s for science. He’s against the use of Native American iconography in sports.

Now he’s stirring himself into the debate over what constitutes a collateral cost of righteous protest and what’s just wanton destruction. After the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Mr. Penzey again grew vocal about racial injustice and the need to fight it. 

Penzeys has a store in Kenosha. Someone wrote Mr. Penzey to ask if he’d feel differently if his store were being damaged in the unrest. 

His Minneapolis store had its windows broken after George Floyd’s killing in May. Penzeys responded with a sweep-up and a “hope mural” on the plywood that replaced them. But Mr. Penzey didn’t cite that bit of history. He thought the question through, he told customers in a letter.

“What if we looted our own store?” he said he asked his team. Snapshot its inventory; earmark it for dispersal to food pantries and “organizations trying to raise money to fund change.” He’s now asking his customers where the products should go.

“Human life means everything,” Mr. Penzey wrote, “stuff, not so much.”


This article appeared in the August 31, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 08/31 edition
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