THE family business had stood proud on the streets of Croydon for almost 150 years, surviving the war, six different monarchs and countless economic downturns.
But the shocking sight of the vast House of Reeves furniture store engulfed in flames will now live longest in the memory after it was razed to the ground by rioters on Monday night.
Its owner Trevor Reeves spoke of his sense of loss yesterday as acrid smoke belched from the ashes of the building behind him.
The 56-year-old said: “The devastation is what you can see. There is nothing I can do about it now.
“It could have happened to anyone, but we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Mr Reeves is the fifth generation of his family to run the business. It was set up in 1867 by his great-great-grandfather, Edwin Reeves, and was held so close to the heart of the community that part of the town, Reeves Corner, is named after it.
Firefighters yesterday continued to train their hoses on the devastated building to dampen pockets of fire, still flaring up hours after arsonists struck. Amid the scene of destruction, locals turned out to condemn the criminals responsible for bringing a once-proud family business to its knees.
Mr Reeves said: “I don’t know what the thought processes were for those that did this. There is no rhyme or reason or logic to it.”
His feelings of shock and bewilderment were echoed by residents and business owners right across the capital as they found themselves similarly innocent victims of a mindless mob rage.
The fires blazed across London on Monday night as violence spread from suburb to suburb.
In Hackney, between 250 and 300 people gathered on the notorious Pembury estate, torching cars and hurling petrol bombs at riot police.
Scores of local businesses in nearby Mare Street were broken into and looted during the afternoon by the troublemakers, many wearing hoods and masks.
Three officers were injured, though not seriously, as missiles were hurled at police lines.
In Peckham, 500 youths gathered in Peckham High Street, vandalising shops, lighting fires and targeting officers with missiles.
In Bethnal Green, more than 100 people looted a Tesco premises and two officers were injured.
In Enfield, meanwhile, around 40 firefighters tackled an enormous blaze at a Sony warehouse. Trouble also flared in Camden, Lewisham and Newham.
Having seemingly started in the more rundown areas, the violence quickly spread to leafy suburbs including Ealing, East Dulwich and Clapham, where looters preyed on shops and caused widespread disruption. Youths raided a Debenhams store and a number of shops in Lavender Hill, while some broke into a fancy dress store near Clapham Junction, stealing masks to conceal their identities.
Scotland Yard said armoured police vehicles were used to push back more than 150 people in the area.
Staff at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Notting Hill tried to beat back rioters with rolling pins as they stormed the establishment on Monday evening and robbed terrified diners of their phones, purses, wallets and jewellery.
“Around the fourth dish of the tasting course, there were loud bangs outside,” wrote one anonymous blogger, who had been dining at the Ledbury.
“The restaurant staff were yelling at us to get away from the windows.
“Before I knew it, the front door shattered and people came crashing in with hoodies, masks, and random weapons.”
She described how she and others were robbed before staff fought the looters off with kitchen equipment and helped customers down into the wine cellar to hide.
Hundreds of small business owners were yesterday picking up the pieces of their shattered lives and bracing themselves of what else might be to come.
Back in Croydon, where a 26-year-old man yesterday became the first person to die in the riots after he was shot in the head on Monday night, residents said they were shocked by the scale of the devastation.
Jalil Al Mohammed, who runs a looted fruit and vegetable shop, said: “Where will this end? This boy has died and all these shops have gone. It affects everybody, not just the shop owners, but people who want to buy milk or just get on with their day. It is just too sad for people who already have enough problems.”
Nearby, at the broken shell of the Reeves furniture store, Mayor of London Boris Johnson surveyed the “unbelievable” scenes. “It’s heartbreaking to see what good, local businesses like the Reeves family have suffered,” he said.
“What kind of sense does it make from the point of view of the rioters and the looters to destroy a business that is actually creating business and wealth in the community, and has the potential to provide employment for young people?
“It’s just scarcely possible to believe that this is London.”
Comment: Page 12; Opinion: Page 13.