Big business tends to stay quiet in the wake of huge political turmoil — saying the wrong thing could be a disaster for those corporate relationships — but that can’t be said for CEO Bill Penzey.
The head of Penzey’s Spices, the largest independent spice retailer in the U.S., has always been outspoken about his beliefs, particularly when it comes to the “corruption and cruelty” he believes have taken over the Republican party under President Trump’s leadership.
More recently, Penzey has supported the protests against racial injustice being held across the country. Protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, demanding justice for Jacob Blake, a young Black man who was shot multiple times in the back by two police officers, recently took a violent turn, with protesters being shot and various local stores being looted.
When someone wrote Penzey a letter suggesting that he’d have a different attitude if it were his own store being looted, he responded with a long letter to subscribers of his newsletter. His letter made it clear that his attitude would be exactly the same.
Several recipients of Penzey’s newsletter shared it on social media, including @MoggieBoourns.
Bill Penzey of Penzey's Spices, on the subject of if he'd still support protests if one of his stores got looted. pic.twitter.com/Wmt29UP39a
— Mags Says ACAB (@MoggieBoourns) August 27, 2020
Penzey’s point was summed up in a poignant phrase: “Human life means everything; stuff, not so much.”
What’s more, the lootings gave him a novel idea.
“My mind went to that idea that we would feel differently if it was our store that was looted,” he wrote. “When I asked around: ‘What if we looted our own store?’ What if we took a snapshot of our Kenosha store’s inventory tonight and simply gave away exactly that amount of inventory in the coming weeks?”
“What if we just gave our spices and seasonings to food pantries and gift boxes to organizations trying to raise money to fund change?” the letter continued.
Everyone he asked — including his mom — said he should do it, and he invited customers in the Kenosha area to offer suggestions for where the store items should go.
In this situation, Penzey is symbolically “looting” his own store, but back in May, one of his stores actually was affected by looting in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. Twitter user @tompkins4881 posted a photo of the murals painted on the boarded-up Minneapolis store after it had been damaged.
The mural A New Hope by @AntonsArtworks at Penzeys Uptown Minneapolis #StreetArt #mural pic.twitter.com/EmomkqXupD
— Kenneth G Tompkins (@tompkins4881) June 14, 2020
“If sweeping up some glass and replacing a couple windows is a piece of everybody realizing the costs of racism-fueled police violence towards minorities is no longer affordable, then so be it,” Penzey wrote in an email to customers after the Minneapolis store had suffered property damage and looting.