Giant, Peaceful Protest Clogs New York Streets, Siphons Retail Sales

Tens of thousands of people descended on New York Sunday, bringing retail to a standstill as they marched through the city’s busiest shopping district.

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Here and below: Retail sales came to a stand still as protesters took to the streets Sunday, blocking the entrances of such stores as Macy's, H&M, Gap, Banana Republic and Victoria's Secret.

WWD Staff

NEW YORK — Over 100,000 protesters marched through Manhattan Sunday, the eve of the Republican National Convention, decrying the policies of the Bush Administration and slowing retail sales to a trickle in one of the city’s major shopping districts.

Apart from slim sales, retailers along the march, such as Macy’s, Gap and H&M, weren’t hurt by any physical damage. Employees from several stores stood in windows or on the sidewalk and took in the spectacle, led off by star power from the likes of Michael Moore, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Danny Glover. The march went from 23rd Street up Seventh Avenue past Madison Square Garden, the site of the GOP convention, east on 34th Street past Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic and Old Navy and down Fifth Avenue to Broadway and eventually to Union Square.

Many in the protest, held under a hot sun and a cloudless sky on one of the most humid days of the summer, hefted signs that read “Bush lies, who dies? Bring the troops home now” and chanted slogans like “No more war,” while others carried what were meant to be caskets draped in American flags. Attendance estimates ranged from 120,000 to over 400,000.

The protesters were organized by United for Peace and Justice, an umbrella organization with more than 800 member groups, including Historians Against the War, Punks For Peace, Queer to the Left, and the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture.

The New York Police Department Sunday afternoon confirmed that there were some arrests, but did not yet have specific numbers. Reports of about 50 arrests came from various media outlets. There were about 300 convention-related arrests prior to Sunday.

Solstice, the small, but usually busy sunglass store selling designer frames such as Chanel and Kate Spade on 34th Street was empty during the march and had three salespeople at the door.

“Business was OK until it started. We’re having a 25 percent off ‘We Hate Bush Sale,’” joked one of the associates. “No, not really. We are having a sale, though.”

H&M, usually packed with customers, was practically deserted in the early afternoon. The employees outnumbered shoppers, of whom there were a handful on the first floor. “It’s been like this ever since yesterday,” said a woman who was restocking pants. “[The protests] started yesterday. It’s going to be like this all week.”

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Victoria’s Secret was more lively, though there looked to be no more than 25 customers in the two-story flagship. A salesman was helping two Japanese women with makeup on the first floor. A woman shopper in her early 30s going down the escalator said, “I live here in New York. I knew about the demonstration. I don’t mind.”

Steve Madden, the shoe boutique, was one of the busiest stores on 34th Street, with shoppers filling almost every corner of the small store and two women making a purchase. “It was totally dead earlier today,” said a salesman. “It’s a little pocket,” he said, describing the sudden minicrowd. When told the march was almost over, he said, “I hope not. I’m getting tired of Bush.”

At Zara on 34th Street, a saleswoman and a security guard chatted with the policeman assigned outside the store. When the policeman left, the saleswoman joined two of her associates in the back of the store. “There’s nobody here. We love it. This is free money. We get paid to sit here and do nothing. No commissions, though,” said the saleswoman.

Stephanie Doucette, manager at Intermix at 125 Fifth Avenue (between 19th and 20th Streets) didn’t see much interruption. “It’s actually been fine. Sundays aren’t a super crazy strong day. It’s a typical Sunday here. The girls are so excited for fall, nothing’s going to stop them.”

Kim Zied, manager at Chelsea Jeans at Seventh Avenue and 23rd Street said the store would normally do about $1,000 of business by 11 a.m., but had only sold $10 worth of bandannas.

“I’m trying to make him [Zied] close early so we can march,” said Evelyn Corna, a sales associate at the store who was donning a sticker for the protest.

The big question mark going into the march was whether it would end at Union Square, where it was scheduled to, or in Central Park, where organizers were unable to obtain permission for a rally due to concerns about damaging the grass.

A small crowd of about 100 was at Union Square while the rest of the march dispersed. Some protesters slowly made the journey to Central Park. A growing protest gathered on the Great Lawn by late afternoon with over a thousand people holding banners and banging drums under the watchful eyes of the police. There were also reports of a communist group in the park who took over a section of the lawn and spelled out “No” with their bodies.

The war in Iraq was the single biggest complaint against the Bush administration by the protesters, but it was not the only issue of concern.

Many had fiscal complaints, stressing that large tax breaks, coupled with the costs of the war, were draining funding from other areas, such as education. The continuing migration of jobs to lower-wage countries, which has decimated the domestic apparel manufacturing industry, was a key issue for labor leaders.

“It’s known as Fashion Avenue because thousands of garment workers made their living before, here on this Avenue,” said Wilfredo Larancuent, international vice president of textile and apparel union UNITE/HERE, of the starting point of the march. He spoke at a press conference just before things got under way.

Many fashion companies still have offices in the area, but few actually produce merchandise in the city.

Among the throngs of the march, where many banged on drums and helicopters whirred overhead, Tex Snape, vice president of Local 331 of UNITE, said, “Our future is with Kerry, not Bush.” U.S. jobs being shipped overseas are “taking bread from the people that live in this country.”

“We figure it’s time for a change and it’s time to give the next guy a chance,” he said. “It can’t get no worse.”

The crowd overall, though, was fueled by a general animosity toward the Bush administration.

“We’re here today because we’re really happy because the Republicans have only a few months left,” said Moore at the press conference. “We’re going to give them a nice smile and a wave as we go up Seventh Avenue here.”

Someone from the crowd shouted, “We love you Michael Moore.”

Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), said it was an act of “chutzpah” for President Bush to bring the convention to the site of the Sept. 11th terrorists attacks at the World Trade Center.

“One day, somebody’s going to ask, ‘When the world went crazy, … what were you doing?’” said Rangel.

The marchers could say they were trying to bring some sanity, he added.

Police officers at the march prepared for the worst, with a significant presence and, in at least some cases, with protective masks in case of a chemical attack from terrorists, but the worst never came.

The threat of another terrorist attack, in what is now a heavily fortified city for the convention, did not dissuade the protesters. “My concerns are more about what the country might do,” said Nikki Morse, who came from Philadelphia for the protest. “Our national policies are what make us unsafe.”

Ruth, another protester, called talk of a terrorist attack “fear propaganda.”

For some demonstrators, just carrying a sign or wearing a sticker was not enough to express their grievances.

Joe Treichel skated on in-line skates in front of the protest wearing a mask with the face of President Bush with devil horns and black wings. He found a receptive audience among the hordes of news crews, walking backwards in front of the march.

“We dropped the ball,” said Treichel. “We didn’t go with world opinion, we’ve isolated ourselves in the world.”

The crowd erupted into cheers as the march passed the Fashion Institute of Technology and people on top of a building across the street unfurled a 25-foot tall pink banner in the shape of a dress, with ruffles and all, that read “Bush Lied Fire Him.”

Some didn’t necessarily want to march in the heat, but felt compelled to.

“I’d like to be somewhere nice and air conditioned sitting down,” said Debbie, a secretary and puppeteer who declined to give her last name. She was prepared none-the-less for the walk, wearing a hat and sundress. “I’m just so completely appalled by this administration and this president. You cannot give an enormous tax cut and expect to support an overseas war.”

The protesters had their own protesters along Seventh Avenue, with signs reading “Right is right, left is wrong.”

Christine Mele, who was taking part in the counter demonstration, said, “[I’m] pro-Bush and anti-Kerry flip-flopper.”

“I think it’s anti-American,” she said of the march. “I think it’s communistic.”

There were others, though, not directly protesting against the march, who were supporting the president in the run up to the convention.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki arrived at the Bryant Park Grill shortly after 1 p.m. on Sunday at a welcoming event for gay Republicans known as the Log Cabin Republicans. Both referred to their presence there as indicative of the city’s welcoming attitude toward everyone.

“New York City, which I am responsible for, is open to everyone and you will see that this week,” Bloomberg said as protesters were making their way across West 34th Street, eight blocks to the south. “We welcome people from all over the world to express themselves. The only rule is you can’t take anyone else’s rights away.”

Bloomberg has faced criticism for encouraging the Republican party to stage its convention in the predominantly Democratic city. Following the nominal economic impact of the Democratic National Convention on the city of Boston last month, there have also been questions of whether taxes raised by the activities of visiting delegates will offset the cost of security. Bloomberg noted in his speech that hotel occupancy is 13 percent ahead of what it was a year ago. Pataki added that staging the convention in New York also holds importance as an illustration of the city as a symbol of freedom.

“We are going to have a great week and a great celebration,” Pataki said, then teased the visiting delegates: “And at the end of that week, I hope you leave.” After a dramatic pause, he continued, “I hope you leave with a little more appreciation of the greatness of this city and the strength of Republican policies.”

— With contributions from Eric Wilson and Lisa Lockwood

Convention Snapshot

Monday: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 8-11 p.m.
Theme of the Day:
Fashion and RetailSpeakers and Agenda:

  • Morning session: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

  • Evening Session: former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
  • Adoption of party platform.Rallies
    • 11 a.m.: RNC Protest Bowl, AMF Chelsea Piers Lanes, Pier 60, 23rd Street at the West Side Highway.

    • Noon: March on New York: Still We Rise, Union Square Park.
    • 4 p.m.: March for Our Lives, Stop the War at Home, United Nations, East 45th Street and First Avenue.
    • 7 p.m.: Fighting the Bush Agenda: Can we do better than “Anybody But Bush,” Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

    Parties and Events

    • Breakfast and fashion shows at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.

    • 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m: Luncheon at J.P. Morgan Chase for “Women Run For Bush.”
    • 1 p.m.: A Taste of New York in The Cellar at Macy’s Herald Square.
    • 5-7 p.m. Montblanc, 598 Madison Avenue, reception for the Ronald Reagan Library.
    • 6:30-8:30 p.m.: Private shopping and cocktail party at Cartier feting Rep. David Dreier.
    • 10 p.m.-1-a.m.: Bergdorf Goodman-Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation benefit.
    • 7-10 p.m.: MTV’s Rock the Vote concert, Central Park.
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