New York City Police, secret service and other special forces stationed along Fifth Avenue outnumbered shoppers Wednesday morning.
Navigating past the multiple barricades and checkpoints was time-consuming and circuitous for many. Retail employees and other Midtown staffers also had their work cut out for them trying to get to their destinations. The entire block in front of Abercrombie & Fitch was lined with NYPD vans. In order to get to the Fifth Avenue entrance, shoppers had to ask permission from police officers stationed on a nearby corner. That was also the case for others like Henri Bendel, Prada and Mikimoto. Some retailers were closed for a few hours Tuesday, when the president spoke with media in Trump Tower.
With President Trump scheduled to leave New York this afternoon, retailers were anticipating a return to normalcy. Henri Bendel’s Fifth Avenue block was at a standstill for shoppers until a manager told the police stationed there that employees and shoppers needed access. The main floor was essentially customer-free, as was also the case at Valentino. Nearby Prada was also dealing with the fallout from the highly restricted access. “It’s pretty much killed the business. We haven’t sold anything in days,” one employee said.
Many shoppers heeded news reports advising drivers to avoid Midtown. Vehicular traffic was light due to the limited access. A Massimo Dutti sales associate, who requested anonymity, said, “A lot of the roads near Trump Tower have been closed down. When a lot of customers see cop cars and everything, they don’t want to walk in here or the stores near Trump Tower. I know, because my brother works there at Niketown.”
However, once the crowds died down, store traffic picked up immediately, thanks largely to tourists staying at four nearby hotels like The St. Regis and The Plaza. “There’s no difference between a Monday and a Sunday here because people are on vacation. The majority of customers we get are from other countries who are visiting the U.S.,” he said. “Once they’re here we try to focus on fashion. We stay away from talking about politics or religion.”
At Uniqlo, Rondell Sam, an advanced sales associate, said store traffic was off by about 10 percent off and the staff of a few hundred had their challenges getting to work on time. “As a store, it has affected traffic. I think every other business can agree on that and they understand. We’re used to this. We get a lot of parades [on Fifth Avenue,]” he said.
One sales associate at Abercrombie & Fitch, who asked not to be identified, said, “Is it affecting the pace of things and the flow of things? Absolutely. I’m not going to lie. I am concerned about tourists [getting to the store.] If they don’t speak English, how are they to know they have to provide certain identification or that they may have to go around a corner to get to an entrance?”
She questioned how the store’s mandatory, but temporary closing during Trump’s speech affected employees’ paychecks. Despite the downturn in store traffic due to barricades and police checks, Abercrombie & Fitch had a successful day Tuesday since associates had more time to cater to individual customers. “It’s kind of positive because we’re figuring out how to be more personable with the customer,” she said.
Arriving at the store slightly out of breath, Lilianii Loyoli, a visitor from Chile, said, “Oh, it is so difficult, so difficult. Stop, stop, stop — no walking. There is police and more police.”
Another Fifth Avenue shopper, Gabriele Ettmüller who lives in Munich, said the heavy police presence did not deter her from shopping at Hermès, Dior and Bergdorf Goodman on Tuesday. After an hour of shopping with her husband and son at Abercrombie & Fitch, they were heading for Central Park. “The situation is a little bit aggressive right now,” Ettmüller said.
Several retailers in the affected area said they were trying to catch up and organize things they don’t usually get to. A Mikimoto salesperson greeted a visitor with, “Thank you for coming in. I know it was difficult.”