Retailers in major cities across the country braced themselves for whatever comes next on Monday as two-and-a-half months of eerie quiet exploded with racial tension and fury over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
The retail world was already overwhelmed and overwrought by the coronavirus shutdown, which has devastated sales and hurled the economy into its worst downturn since the Great Depression. Now the industry — and America at large — is grappling with a surge of raw emotion and anger over the racism that persists after decades of political talk and stands in stark contrast with the national ethos.
The killing of Floyd last week set parts Minneapolis aflame, sparking protests across the country as people asked why another unarmed black man was killed by police. Derek Chauvin, the police officer who was captured in a video kneeling on Floyd’s neck until he could no longer breath has been arrested and charged with third-murder and second-degree manslaughter.
As the protests evolved into clashes with police and then widespread looting in some of the nation’s best-known shopping districts — from Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles to SoHo in New York — retailers that were already struggling forward took another big hit.
Forecaster Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, pulled together a first estimate of the retail impact from the disruptions from Friday through Sunday and came out with about $6 billion of store sales lost, although $2 billion of that would be picked up by orders online.
“This $4 billion estimate for the three-day period includes both direct impacts of the store closures and indirect impacts as consumers trimmed shopping trips even in unaffected areas,” Johnson said. “If the same store closures continue through this week, or beyond, we would estimate successive (seven-day) weeks at $7 billion per week.”
Those estimates, however, exclude two big costs for retailers — physical damage to the stores and the costs of stolen merchandise.
But there is much more at stake than sales dollars lost and the expense of rebuilding some stores.
And the retailers who spoke out made clear where their allegiances lie.
“America is burning because of the deep-rooted racism that is our nation’s most shameful legacy,” said Chip Bergh, Levi Strauss & Co.’s president and chief executive officer, in a message under the heading: “We Stand With the Black Community.”
Although racism is a centuries old plague, it still in some ways offered a clearer enemy than the amorphic coronavirus that’s killed more than 373,000 globally.
“Unlike the coronavirus, we aren’t going to stay in our homes or hide from the racism virus,” said Steve Rendle, chairman, president and ceo of Vans and The North Face parent VF Corp. “We’re going to continue to fight it, but do so through constructive and collaborative efforts, not destructive and violent protests.”
But more violence could well be in the offing as marchers already began filling the streets of SoHo and lower Manhattan on Monday evening.
On Monday afternoon, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, leaders of a city and state that have seen much police violence against protestors, declared a citywide curfew that will run from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m.
The New York City Police Department will double its presence to prevent additional violence and property damage, specifically in hard-hit areas including lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn.
“I support and protect peaceful protest in this city,” De Blasio said. “The demonstrations we’ve seen have been generally peaceful. We can’t let violence undermine the message of this moment. It is too important and the message must be heard. Tonight, to protect against violence and property damage, the governor and I have decided to implement a citywide curfew.”
The mayor also said that police officers who overstep their bounds will be held accountable. He pointed to the video of two police cars driving into protesters, saying that although it was an “extremely aberrant situation,” it too was “unacceptable,” and would be investigated swiftly by the NYPD and an independent review board to mete out discipline if necessary. Ditto for other cases, such as police shoving protesters to the ground and pulling their guns. The “double standard” that applies to police and civilian behavior “cannot go on,” he said.
Cuomo added: “I stand behind the protesters and their message, but unfortunately there are people who are looking to take advantage of and discredit this moment for their own personal gain. The violence and the looting that has gone on in New York City has been bad for the city, the state and this entire national movement, undermining and distracting from this righteous cause.”
New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said around 400 arrests were made Sunday night of “cowards hijacking a cause.”
Matthew Shay, president and ceo of the National Retail Federation, said: “There is a real problem and divide in this country that we share the responsibility to address. It requires leadership in the municipal, state and federal levels of government, in our schools, our places of worship, our businesses and our homes, so we can work together — honestly, transparently and inclusively — to find solutions.
“Defacing, looting and plundering businesses, whether viewed as a direct outgrowth of fury or an opportunistic act of vandalism and theft, impedes progress and healing,” Shay said. “Of primary concern to our retailers is the safety of their teams, the communities they serve and the emotional and physical well-being of their African American colleagues and customers.”
In New York, stores belonging to Apple, Chanel, Coach and Adidas were among the numerous ones that were vandalized, with SoHo and Union Square both hit hard by looters. Observers said many of them appeared to be from out of state and disconnected from the protests, simply using them as a cover to break into stores.
Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer said: “People who have experienced horrible looting want to make sure that all of the footage from the security cameras is saved and viewed. Obviously, they would like to have more security from the property owners. I don’t know if that’s possible because that takes money.”
Ken Giddon, president of Rothman’s, a men’s specialty store on Union Square, was among those retailers looted on Sunday night. Although the store has yet to reopen, he was inside on Monday cleaning up the broken glass and installing plywood on the entrances.
He estimated that between one-quarter and one-third of the merchandise was stolen by looters.
Giddon, who lives outside the city, said he got a call from his alarm company around midnight and watched the looting “in real time” through the store’s video cameras for the next three hours. “What was I going to do, call the cops — they were busy,” he said.
Surprisingly, Giddon was calm on Monday while cleaning up the mess. “I look back in the late Eighties when I started and I used to be looted by thugs when I was standing right there. They’re just ‘things.’”
Many sought to draw a firm line between the looting and the broader racial issues that sent people into the streets, risking exposure to COVID-19 in large crowds.
Floyd’s brother, Terrence Floyd, spoke to protesters denouncing the protests that have turned violent and in some cases seen looting, vandalism and fires set.
“I understand you’re upset,” Floyd told a crowd in Minneapolis on Monday. “But you’re not half as upset as I am. If I’m not messing up my community, then what are y’all doing? Y’all doing nothing! It’s not going to bring my brother back.”
He urged people to act constructively in the memory of his brother and vote after educating themselves on political candidates and issues.
Many are taking that approach, but the situation is still tense and volatile.
In California cities such as Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento, predominantly peaceful protests continued on Sunday and were planned for Monday as well. But Santa Monica and Long Beach saw protests during the day Sunday turn to looting and destruction of property by some, as had happened the night before in much of West L.A.
In the Santa Monica area, which is dominated by shops and restaurants, stores like Patagonia, REI, Foot Action and Nike’s Jumpman were broken into and looted, along with a number of smaller businesses in the area. A crystal shop, a nail salon and a jewelry shop were all nearly emptied of merchandise by early Monday morning as business owners came to survey the damage and clean up. Members of the community came to help clean up the area as well.
The National Guard was deployed in Santa Monica on Sunday evening to aid the local police force in clearing protests and crowds that went past a county-wide curfew of 6 p.m. Many National Guard remained in Santa Monica on Monday, blocking off the city’s pier and surrounding Santa Monica Place, a mall. The property had the entirety of its perimeter barricaded and workmen were rushing to board up broken windows of a Bloomingdale’s and a Nordstrom, one of the locations Nordstrom is set to permanently close as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom also spoke in a special afternoon address about the protests, striking a tone of understanding.
“People lose patience because they haven’t seen progress,” Newsom said. “Society becomes how we behave — we are our behaviors.”
The protests and the damage to property comes as retailers across L.A. county were planning to begin reopening this week after California declared in-store shopping could resume with modifications after being prohibited for nearly three months as part of measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Fear of further looting saw nearly all businesses in downtown Santa Monica and the popular shopping strip on Montana Avenue being boarded up on Monday morning. When they will decide to reopen is unclear. Stores in west L.A. remained closed.
Ilse Metchek, ceo of the California Fashion Association, said she sees at least another two weeks of closures for retail.
“After this, you’re not going shopping today,” Metchek said. “At least another two weeks, and that brings you into mid-June. And if they don’t bring a speedy conclusion to the case in Minneapolis [regarding the policeman charged with killing Floyd], this will keep going.
“I remember Rodney King and it was not just the initial riots, it happened again when they didn’t find the police officer guilty, so be prepared for another wave,” Metchek said.
These are the concerns of retail right now — when and how the riots that come after peaceful demonstrations will stop. Although Metchek doesn’t yet have a sense of how extensive the economic impact will be on business in L.A., she expects it to be “enormous, just enormous.”
“They already lost the spring season, now they may lose summer,” she said of retailer and brand sales.
(The 1991 Rodney King protests and riots, named for the man who survived a violent beating on a highway by multiple L.A. police, are estimated to have cost the city $3.8 billion in taxable sales and $125 million in lost sales tax revenue over the ensuing decade, according to 2004 research article from professors Victor Matheson and Robert Baade).
Activewear and sneaker brands have been among the hardest hit during the looting that has swept the country in the days since Floyd’s death.
On Friday night, Nike put out a social media post that was a twist on its famous slogan, but this one — white words on a solid black background — implored viewers: “For Once, Don’t Do It.” The video then went on to say: “Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America. Don’t turn your back on racism. Don’t accept innocent lives being taken from us. Don’t make any more excuses. Don’t think this doesn’t affect you. Don’t sit back and be silent. Don’t think you can’t be part of the change. Let’s all be part of the change.”
The post prompted competitor Adidas to repost Nike’s post in solidarity and add: “Together is how we move forward. Together is how we make change.”
The video came after Nike ceo John Donahoe sent an e-mail to the staff that was obtained by Yahoo Finance and read in part: “Let me be as clear as I can: Nike is opposed to bigotry. We are opposed to hatred and inequality in all its forms, indirect and overt. While Nike cannot solve injustice, I believe we have a responsibility to work toward addressing it to the best of our ability.”
Sneaker merchant Undefeated sounded a note of resolve after being swept up in the chaos. “Our store, which has served as a pillar in the community, driving youth and adult programs for almost 20 years, got hit,” the Los Angeles company said. “We’re not going to allow opportunists to change the narrative. We’ll clean up, rebuild and will continue to demand justice and equality in our communities that need it the most.”
Chris Gibbs of Union shared photos on Instagram of his storefront with the shutters down to show the statement “stop killing us.” He thanked friends, family and customers for expressing their concern for their safety after the looting. “We thank you for your concern. It’s nice to know people are out there who love and support us. Please know we love y’all, too. We will be OK,” he said.
He reiterated why this situation has unfolded. “But what I want people to remember is that the genesis of this whole thing is that police are killing black people!!! Please don’t let the looting side show that’s going on distract your attention from the main stage, the main conversation we need to keep at the forefront. That is…the systemic racism that is eating this country alive. Whenever your mind starts to wander to the looters, keep your eyes on the prize that Black Lives Matter. I don’t want to talk about looting, or counterfeit bills or someone selling loosey’s on the sidewalk. I only want to talk about ending racism and ending police brutality.”
Ubiq’s stores in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., were both impacted, and the retailer said they are looking for ways to help the communities and open dialogues in both cities. They also shared four organizations to support, such as Minnesota Freedom Fund, Reclaim the Block, Black Vision Collective and Movement for Black Lives.
“Inventory can always be replaced. Store doors can always be fixed. A stolen human life can never be given back,” they said on Instagram.
Concepts’ Boylston Street store in Boston was affected on Sunday. The retailer also operates a store on Newbury Street in Boston and Hudson Street and issued a statement that said: “Glass may be broken and product has been stolen, but the spirit of who we are and the community we love is strong. It’s a shame that a peaceful protest turned into violent and damaging behavior. Our thoughts are with the people and businesses that were negatively impacted by this. We have been shut down for two-and-a-half months and have been looking forward to today, the first day of phase one to reopen. We have been working hard in getting prepared to reopen, making sure the stores were cleaned, sanitized and we had product to serve the community. We are now securing our spaces, cleaning up and planning to reopen as soon as we can. We haven’t decided when, but rest assured, we will. We look forward to opening back up, serving the community, supporting our neighborhood businesses and doing what we love.”
Stadium Goods did not confirm the state of its SoHo store in Manhattan but said on Sunday, “Sneaker culture, the streetwear industry and Stadium Goods would not exist were it not for the defining contributions of the black community. We are a company built on community, and our community is in pain because black members have been victimized by systemic racism for far too long. We pledge to not be silent in the face of these continuing injustices. We stand in solidarity with the black community and everyone working toward the change this country and the world needs.”
Kith on Lafayette Street was among those vandalized. Three days ago, the retailer shared a number of organizations to donate to like the ACLU, Change.org for Breonna Taylor, Go Fund Me links supporting George Floyd, Akeem Baker’s I Run With Maud page for Ahmaud Arbery, and Children of Promise NYC, among others.
“At Kith, we understand that we have the opportunity and the platform to spread awareness and help invoke the change needed for innocent citizens to live peacefully in a country that promises liberty and justice for all. When the powers that be refuse to uphold that promise, we the people must ring the alarm. We implore you not to sit idly by during these horrific times, but rather let them fuel you to demand a higher standard. Demand more accountability. Demand equality. Demand change,” it said.
Virgil Abloh shared his thoughts on the looting after Round Two’s Los Angeles and Richmond stores were affected. The Off-White designer and Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director took to Instagram angrily reiterating that streetwear is dead and that products looted from Round Two and RSVP Gallery in Los Angeles are “tainted.”
He later shared his $50 donation to Fempower bail fund in Miami, which was met with ire from his social media followers who believed he should donate more given the prices of his products. He explained in a deleted post that he was matching friends’ donations.
The national scope of the disruption could be seen in the operations of major retailers and in the seemingly endless reports of arrests and closures from around the country.
More than 250 CVS Pharmacy stores in 21 states have experienced varying levels of damage over the past several days due to the protests, according to a CVS spokeswoman. “Thankfully, no employees have been hurt. Approximately 60 stores are closed at this time, and we’ll reopen those locations when repairs are made and it is safe to do so.”
Each closed pharmacy’s phone system has been rerouted to a nearby CVS Pharmacy so that all patients will continue to have access to care, the spokeswoman said. “We’re continually monitoring the situation in each community we serve and will close stores, if needed to ensure the safety of employees and customers.” she said.
Walgreens has temporarily closed some stores, but a company spokesman was unable to say how many. “We’ve had some stores damaged in certain markets,” he said. “We’re continuing to assess damage and working to reopen any impacted locations as quickly as possible, once we’ve determined we can do so safely for our customers and team members.”
As of Monday afternoon, H&M had closed 56 stores in the U.S. An H&M spokesman said, “We cannot say when these stores will reopen except to say that they will only reopen when it is safe to do so. We are closely monitoring the situation. The health and safety of our customers and colleagues is our top priority.”
Gap Inc., which on Sunday donated $250,000 to support the fight against racism with the NAACP and EmbraceRace, has also temporarily closed select stores. A company spokeswoman said, “The safety of our store teams is our top priority. We have made the decision to temporarily close certain store locations as a result of the protests happening across the country. We are monitoring the situation closely and are committed to paying our store teams for shifts already scheduled. Where, possible, we will look to redeploy our team to other store locations.”
In Seattle, where Nordstrom and other retailers were vandalized by looters, city officials had not yet estimated the amount of monetary damage caused to businesses.
There have been 82 reported arrests and at least six injuries to Seattle police officers since Friday, according to a Seattle Police Department spokeswoman. “Property damage was spread throughout the downtown core and beyond, and both large and small businesses were impacted,” the spokeswoman said.
City officials and volunteers spent all day Sunday boarding up businesses to help protect property, as well as clean up graffiti and broken glass, she said. “The city is working with our business improvement area and business district partners to respond to the emerging needs of small businesses in the area. We remain committed to these efforts moving forward,” the Seattle police spokeswoman said.
A similar scene played out in South Philadelphia on Sunday, where neighbors stood guard outside of the local Target store to protect the location from potential looters. Over the weekend, dozens of residents reportedly pitched in with the cleanup as part of the “Bring a Broom Philly” event.
As of Monday afternoon, the Philadelphia Police Department had made 98 arrests for looting and burglary. Ann Taylor Loft, Steve Madden and Vans were among the stores vandalized. The estimate of property damage caused to area businesses has not been released. Philadelphia was placed under a citywide curfew for the third straight night Monday.
As is the case in numerous cities in the U.S., Atlanta has a curfew in place until further notice. The Atlanta Police Department had made 298 arrests as of Monday afternoon related to protests since Friday, according to an APD spokeswoman. Dallas also has a curfew in place, according to a Dallas Police Department spokeswoman, who was unable to provide an estimated tally for the damaged property in the area.
Chicago also kept its curfew in place Monday night. Adam Skaf, a spokesman for the Magnificent Mile Association in Chicago, said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot “has not put the kabash on June 3rd, this Wednesday, for our next phase of reopening, which includes nonessential retail with a limited capacity. However, it depends on retailers’ readiness to open in light of this weekend’s events and keeping an eye on a potential spike in COVID-19 cases. That could delay the opening or even move us backwards.”
The city’s health commissioner has urged those who participated in peaceful protests or who were part of large crowds over the weekend to quarantine for 14 days. “They are definitely concerned about a rise in coronavirus cases after last weekend,” Skaf said.
Sunday night the looting spread to the South Side of Chicago and other outside neighborhoods, but not the central business district. “The real sadness was the small businesses [were hit]. We believe that we will recover. Large brands along the Magnificent Mile may receive support that is not available to small businesses on the South Side and West Side of Chicago. We’re talking dollar stores, grocery stores, corner stores — quite essential businesses that have been devastated by looting,” Skaf said.
In Portland, Ore., dozens of businesses have been vandalized, leading to “tens of millions” of dollars’ worth of damage. Executives at the Portland Business Alliance started assessing the damage with retailers on Monday and expected to continue to do so through the week. Amy Lewin, a PBA spokeswoman said, “In an already challenging time, what happened this weekend will challenge many regarding whether they are even able to reopen.”
The disruptions means that many store employees will not be returning to work as planned. The PBA spokeswoman said, “There were several retailers that had planned to reopen stores in downtown Portland Saturday, bringing people back to work after many weeks of not working, due to the stay-at-home executive order.”