LONDON — Businesses here have gone into lockdown mode in anticipation of mass protests and demonstrations surrounding the G-20 summit. Although the summit does not take place until Thursday, the marches kick off today and will converge at the Bank of England in the City of London.
The five-star Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly, several miles from the bank’s location, has already boarded up its windows in anticipation of possible attacks by anarchist groups from across Europe, which are taking part in the series of planned “G-20 Meltdown” marches.
London’s iconic red phone booths have already been removed from the City, London’s financial district, for fear they might be used to facilitate attacks, while many retailers in the area plan to shut for fear the marches may turn violent.
“Businesses should remain vigilant at all times,” warned the City of London Police on its Web site. “Banks and financial premises are the targets of the protests although this could extend to all premises in the City.”
A spokeswoman for the Royal Exchange, the historic shopping arcade opposite the Bank of England that houses brands including Gucci, Hermès and Agent Provocateur, confirmed many of the stores plan to close. Others, she said, have planned increased security.
“Jo Malone’s store at the Royal Exchange will close as a precautionary measure to protect the team,” said Jill Whitwell, retail director at the beauty brand, which is owned by the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.
A spokeswoman for Lulu Guinness, which also has a unit in the Royal Exchange, said the store will remain open on Wednesday, but she expects business to be “completely dead.”
“We don’t have any extra security, but there is a security guard in the Royal Exchange building. Unfortunately, as we are on the outside, it is slightly exposed,” she said.
One clothing store manager at Leadenhall Market, which is two blocks from the Bank of England, has been advised to keep the store’s door locked unless a customer wishes to enter.
Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), told City workers last week that they should consider wearing more casual clothing, and staggering staff arrival and departures. Even dress-down favorites such as chinos and loafers have been vetoed for making workers too easily identifiable. Not all is so serious, though: Angels, London’s biggest costume business, is offering City workers free punk-style wigs to wear for the day if they present a business card proving they work in the area.
Meanwhile, even those who never travel to the City will be affected by the massive traffic jams expected from the arrival of the world leaders — whose entourages shuttling around town will only increase the British capital’s notoriously gridlocked traffic even on good days.
President Obama and his wife Michelle arrived in London late Tuesday, and will be staying at Winfield House, the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Regent’s Park (see sidebar). Today, Obama has a 9 a.m. meeting scheduled with Prime Minister Gordon Brown at Downing Street — which will require him to cross through central London. Later on today, he and the First Lady plan to meet Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace nearby.
After the Buckingham Palace reception, Britain’s First Lady Sarah Brown will hold a dinner at Downing Street for the husbands and wives of the 20 global leaders. Jamie Oliver will prepare the meal, while the post-dinner goody bags will be filled with sweets from the Chelsea, London-based Rococo Chocolates and neckties from Savile Row tailor Ozwald Boateng.
The actual summit will take place at East London’s ExCel Centre Thursday, a stone’s throw away from Canary Wharf, where many of the global banks are based.