As election boards in states across the country continued Wednesday to tallying mail-in ballots for the presidential election, retailers in some major U.S. cities were trying to get back to business after closing and boarding up on Election Day.
This week hundreds, if not thousands, of plywood-covered stores can still be found throughout the U.S. in Los Angeles; New York; Boston; Chicago; Portland, Ore.; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C., and numerous other cities as they covered their facades in advance of the presidential election for fear of theft and vandalism. Many stores remained closed Wednesday as the U.S. braced for days, if not weeks, of uncertainty surrounding the results of the presidential race between President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. There was no official winner as of press time, although Biden maintained an Electoral College lead. Even once a winner is declared, expectations are high that a drawn-out court battle will ensue. Trump’s campaign had already filed lawsuits Wednesday in the battleground states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, as Michigan was called in favor of Biden and Pennsylvania continued to count votes.
Now, after having to shutter stores earlier this year due to the pandemic and seeing shopper traffic at brick-and-mortar wither to a fraction of normal as consumers remain fearful about the coronavirus, retailers are bracing for a drawn-out election that could impact spending during the key holiday season. Holiday shopping for many stores and consumers has already begun.
While there was one group of protesters in downtown L.A. on Tuesday night, it resulted in no public reports of property damage and none could be observed late Wednesday morning in the area where the demonstration took place. Nevertheless, police arrested more than 50 demonstrators from the gathering based on a live declaration that the gathering was unlawful and their alleged failure to disperse, according to a report in the L.A. Times. More than 30 other people were cited for the same infraction but not arrested.
“They were running around downtown causing trouble,” Los Angeles police Deputy Chief Vito Palazzolo told the Times. “We gave them every opportunity to disperse and they chose to remain, so we made the decision to make arrests.”
In Chicago, a handful of luxury retailers — Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani and Prada among them — were temporarily shuttered Wednesday along Oak Street, a tony shopping throughway, according to Adam Skaf, a spokesman for the Magnificent Mile Association. Stores in the city have faced a few rounds of theft in the past five months. In August, the Chicago Police Department made more than 100 arrests in relation to theft and criminal activity downtown. In addition, a Looting Task Force was established, and Chicago police created a Critical Incident Response team that has been conducting drills in recent weeks.
Having advised retailers to keep property well-lit at night, maintain security cameras and post a contact’s name and number near the door so that police can notify any damage, Philadelphia police officials have not offered any guidelines about temporary closures.
That was also the case with the Minneapolis Police Department, according to a spokesman. Several Target stores were forced to close in Minneapolis and the surrounding area in late May and early June, following the looting that ensued after the police killing of George Floyd. At that time, the estimated amount of insured loss in Minneapolis was $25 million, but that number wound up being significantly higher, according to Tom Johansmeyer, head of Verisk’s Property Claim Services. He declined to specify how much. Much of the recent excessive boarding up of stores was driven by the fact that many retailers did not have adequate insurance policies that covered their losses due to looting.
A Target spokeswoman said, “Outside of one Philadelphia store that was closed last week due to protest activity and looting, there are no stores closed at this time. Target’s top priority is the safety of our team members and guests. We’ll continue to monitor our communities closely and make decisions accordingly.”
In Manhattan, hundreds of stores were still securely boarded up Wednesday from the Upper West Side to SoHo and most neighborhoods in between. Some luxury houses like Prada, Valentino and Bulgari did not just board up their windows, but also the exteriors of their stores. Police helicopters circled overhead downtown Tuesday night for hours, as an audible reminder of New York City Police Department’s increased presence that is in place for election week.
On Wednesday, NYPD officers lined the sidewalks in front of Bergdorf Goodman’s main store on Fifth Avenue and its men’s store across the street. Police barricades, in some cases two rows of them, added another obstacle in front of the stores, and on nearby blocks. A garbage truck was parked in front of the Louis Vuitton store, and several police officers stood near the entrance. Several police vehicles, an NYPD bus and three NYPD trucks were parked one block south in front of the Prada and Bulgari stores — not far from Trump Tower. Without many shoppers or pedestrians on the sidewalks, police officers chatted with each other, occasionally offering directions or waving at a passing toddler.
At the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship, round-the-clock security includes guards stationed in the store with security dogs during off-hours, a safety measure first put in place last week. The retailer was said to be spending $1,000 an hour for such reinforcement.
Plywood covered Cartier, the NBA store, H&M, Victoria’s Secret and scores of other Fifth Avenue retailers to varying degrees. The stores appeared so locked down that a few left their front doors ajar as an indicator that they were in fact open. Timberland, Zara and Barnes & Noble featured “We’re Open” signs near the entrances. An industrious blue-haired employee at &OtherStories painted “WE ARE OPEN” twice on the boarded-up store. She deferred comment regarding the store’s recent foot traffic to the corporate headquarters. H&M’s 563 stores in the U.S. remain open except for two in El Paso, Tex., due to the guidance of local health and government officials in relation to COVID-19.
All in all, shoppers were scarce Wednesday morning along Fifth Avenue in Midtown and on the Upper West Side.
Having declared a state of emergency earlier this week and with the National Guard on reserve, Portland — which in recent months has faced near-nightly protests — saw businesses respond accordingly to safeguard their stores. Pre-Election Day, stores were advised to empty and secure dumpsters and garbage cans, and remove outdoor furniture and signage. As of Wednesday, there were no updates regarding whether retailers should stay open or modify hours, according to a spokesman for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. That was also the word from a representative of the Portland Police Bureau.
Reached for comment about any temporary store closings, a Walmart Inc. spokesman addressed the status of another recent precaution taken by the mass chain. After removing firearms and ammunition from some of its stores, Walmart has brought that merchandise back. The company updated that plan last week, according to a company spokesman, who cited a statement issued Oct. 30 that read, in part, “As the current incidents have remained geographically isolated, we have made the decision to begin returning these products to the sales floor today.”
Nordstrom, after closing its 94 full-priced stores, 241 Nordstrom Rack stores, five Nordstrom Local service hubs and two Last Chance stores early on Election Day — at 5 p.m. local time as planned — the retailer reopened all of its stores in the U.S. In certain locations, such as its New York City flagship, the company took the safety precaution of installing frosted windows.
CVS Health, one of the retailers that faced a substantial amount of theft and property damage during the unrest in late May and early June, is closely monitoring the situation in its markets, according to a company spokeswoman. “Our local leaders are empowered to take steps that they determine will best support the safety of our stores, employees and customers. This includes boarding of windows at some stores. Any store with boarded windows will continue to be open to serve customers as long as it is safe to do so,” she said.
All Talbots locations across the country reopened Wednesday, according to a company spokeswoman. However, the 410-unit operation has added security in select markets such as New York City, Boston and Providence, she said.
Gap Inc. declined to specify whether any of its stores have temporarily closed in select cities. A company spokeswoman said, “At Gap Inc., we believe that being inclusive isn’t optional. We all deserve to belong, and on our own terms. This is core to who we are as a company and how we make decisions. In upholding these values, we remain steadfast to our mission of keeping our stores welcoming and safe spaces for all.”
She continued, “As always, our number-one priority is the safety and well-being of our teams, customers and communities. We have contingency plans set in place to manage issues that may arise and will continue to monitor the situation carefully and closely.”
In L.A., the entire LAPD has been on “tactical alert” since Tuesday, automatically increasing the number of police on duty and street presence. At the end of October, the LAPD received approval to begin recording aerial footage from helicopters, specifically of protest activity, via a unanimous vote by the Police Commission.
On Wednesday, a police helicopter was circling the downtown L.A. area and police in marked and unmarked cars could be seen slowly surveilling the area despite nearly empty streets and almost no stores being open.
Suzanne Holley, president and chief executive officer of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, noted that the group did not advise any businesses to close but instead “endeavored to assist businesses by ensuring that they were informed and connected with resources they deemed necessary.” She also noted that, other than some graffiti, which is common downtown, there was no property damage on Tuesday night.
L.A. City Hall remained surrounded by chain-link fencing, along with a cadre of motorcycle police poised in front. In Beverly Hills, there was a gathering on Tuesday evening of more than 100 Trump supporters, none of whom were arrested, according to police reports. Police presence was also obvious in that city, where its famed shopping street Rodeo Drive remained closed off to all pedestrian and vehicular traffic and all stores and most restaurants on surrounding streets were completely boarded up and closed.
Being closed through Wednesday has been the plan for Beverly Hills since last week and a representative for the city said Wednesday there was “no update to report” on that plan. He noted that Tuesday night saw “no damage” to property.
Two evening demonstrations of a collective few hundred people in L.A. is nothing compared to the civil unrest it and other cities across the country saw in late May and June, when tens of thousands of people, in a generally peaceful manner, took to the streets for weeks to protest the killing of Floyd and countless other Black men and women in recent years, along with systemic racism in general.
Some nights of vandalism and theft did occur amid these protests, including in L.A., which saw roughly four days of such activity, starting downtown and moving west to more monied areas like Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. And that experience has apparently left retail very on edge.
As Beverly Hills has been subject to weekend gatherings of raucous Trump supporters for the last several weeks, including a gathering of more than 4,000 last weekend that marched through streets lined with luxury shops and offices, Beverly Hills on Tuesday approved an “urgency ordinance” that will now require permits for large gatherings. It had been waiving the requirement over the last several months.
A representative for the City of L.A. could not be reached for comment on whether it had issued any guidance to businesses in the city to remain closed. Before the election, as WWD reported, certain local police of cities within L.A. had been advising businesses to take steps to protect their goods and property, while many landlords and property managers had been urging tenants to simply close through Wednesday.
Shops in the Fairfax district, popular with streetwear brands, remained closed and boarded up on Wednesday. Supreme was one exception, which had its front door open as its facade remained covered in plywood. The nearby Grove shopping mall, a Caruso property, was open, but piles of wire fencing sat at every entrance to the mall, apparently ready to be put up at any moment. The Century City mall, a Westfield property, had similar piles of fencing on hand, but the mall was open. The Beverly Center, a Taubman property, was also open on Wednesday, as planned.
Just a bit further west, shops in and around Melrose Avenue, from Marc Jacobs to The RealReal to Dries Van Noten, remained boarded and closed. Same for the Promenade area of Santa Monica, home to mainly chain stores, many of which have actually closed permanently due to the pandemic. The generally smaller shops along Montana Avenue were open, however.
Even with election-related anxiety apparently running high, it’s had a limited impact on online spending, which has become imperative for retailers and brands throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. According to data from Adobe, online spending in the U.S. the day before the election hit $2.2 billion, a 31 percent increase from the same day last year. On Election Day, people spent $2 billion online, a 27 percent increase from last year. For this week, Adobe expects people to spend a total of $16 billion.
But this level of shopping could be impacted, for better or worse, heading into the holiday shopping season by the ultimate result of the election. In a survey of 1,000 people in the U.S., 26 percent told Adobe that “the outcome of the election will impact their holiday spending.” Meanwhile, a survey of 80 major retailers found that the industry believes “consumers will be more confident in spending after the presidential election.”
“Previous election cycles have shown that online growth tends to drop most notably on the day after the election,” Taylor Schreiner, a director of Adobe Insights, said. “Once a clearer picture of the election emerges in the coming days, we expect to see holiday shopping pick back up shortly after.”