Those stores are located along the 10-block stretch of Lexington Avenue between East 47th and 57th Streets that the New York Police Department intends to close, starting today, to all vehicles, as well as pedestrians, except those people with identification showing that they live or work in that area.
Three cross streets nearby the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at 301 Park Avenue, where the summit meeting is to be held, will also be closed to vehicular traffic for several blocks. The closures are intended to protect the political and business leaders attending the meeting from any of the violent demonstrations which have marked recent global trade parleys, such as the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle and last year’s Group of Eight summit in Genoa, Italy. Protesters and self-styled anarchists at that event smashed store windows and sent the city into a state of chaos, preempting the trade negotiations.
Several local retailers said in interviews Tuesday that their business depends on tourist traffic and that the anticipated closures would have an adverse effect. They also expressed frustration that the city had not formally notified them of the planned street closures.
“What can we do?” Michel Hakim, president of Hakim Bags, asked rhetorically. “I don’t like it, but we can’t do anything.”
He said that most of his customers were tourists and, when asked if the closures would crimp sales, he responded, “Yeah, it looks like that.”
At Martinique Fine Jewelers, owner Joseph Tobias said he had primarily been thinking about the security implications of the event. When told about the planned street closures, he said, “That gives us more to think about.”
“Maybe we’ll go to the beach, then,” he quipped. It’s a suggestion that wasn’t entirely out of the question on a 60-degree January day.
He acknowledged that he asked his security service to be prepared to react if anything happens.
“We spoke to our alarm companies, in case a window is broken,” he said, “warning them to have a quick response.”
A police spokeswoman said the city wasn’t making any specific security recommendations to retailers.
“It’s at their own discretion,” she said. “If they want to board up their windows, they’re welcome to do that. We haven’t made any special advisories to the retailers.”
She declined to specify the number of officers who would be stationed in Midtown around the meeting site, but press reports put estimates at 4,000. By Tuesday morning, concrete barriers had already been placed on street corners around the Waldorf, ready to be slipped into place when the streets are closed at 5 a.m. today.
While there will likely be a heavy police presence around the meeting itself, retailers in other parts of the city are expected to be the subject of demonstrations.
Bruce Raynor, president of UNITE, said he planned to lead a union protest at a Gap store at 54th Street and Fifth Avenue on Thursday afternoon.
“We are expecting a couple of thousand people. We’ll be there to talk about globalization and sweatshops,” said Raynor, who will also be speaking at a panel at the Economic Forum.
A Gap spokesman said the company typically briefs store management and employees in preparation for demonstrations.
“We always try to be prepared for a situation like that,” he said. “Our focus is on supporting our employees and the customers. We move forward and have business and we make sure our employees are prepared to handle protesters and situations like this.”
He said that closing the doors at a store targeted by protesters is only “a last resort.”
“We want to make sure the store is open and people can come in,” he added.
According to a statement on Gap Inc.’s Web site, the company fully enforces its code of vendor conduct, which “focuses on compliance with local labor laws, working conditions and the environment” and also covers issues including minimum wages and child labor.
Another event is to be held at a space rented from the Fashion Institute of Technology, though a school spokeswoman emphasized that FIT is neither sponsoring nor endorsing the event. That event, scheduled at the Haft Auditorium at 7 p.m. Friday is to be an educational and cultural program on civil rights hosted by the People’s Rights Fund, a not-for-profit organization.
Police this week said that they will invoke a 19th-century law forbidding the wearing of masks in public and will arrests people in groups of three or more who are wearing masks. At the Seattle demonstrations, many demonstrators wore ski masks to conceal their identity and at other New York labor demonstrations protesters have worn elaborate costumes which conceal their faces.
A grassroots group called “No Logo” posted an announcement on its Web site, nologo.org, calling for an “anti-capitalist convergence” and “social revolution” at the Waldorf during the meeting.
“This is a provocation,” the announcement said. “While thousands of New Yorkers are still burying their dead, trying to patch together shattered lives and desperately trying to see how they can continue to pay insanely high New York City rents after being laid off from their jobs, the richest and most powerful men on earth have decided to come and party on the wreckage — to celebrate, no doubt, the billions of dollars of taxpayer money they’ve just been handed by their respective governments and explore new opportunities to profiteer from permanent global warfare.”
The Economic Forum is typically held in Davos, Switzerland, but its organizers decided to move it to New York this year to show solidarity with the city after the devastating Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The meeting’s theme is “Leadership in Fragile Times: A Vision for a Shared Future,” and it will include dozens of panel discussions running Thursday through Monday. Globalization, the economic recovery, technology and and international relations will be key issues.
UNITE’s Raynor will not be the only apparel industry voice participating in the meeting. Bruce Klatsky, chairman and chief executive officer of Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., will be attending the meeting, his assistant confirmed.