Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020

L.A., More East Coast Retail Shutting Down Over Election Day Fears

Retailers in Los Angeles and other major cities in the U.S. are on offense over fears that Election Day, and possibly the days after, could result in public upset that might lead to property damage and theft.

Still a day before the U.S. presidential election, scores of retailers throughout Los Angeles, from major luxury brands to Target, local jewelry stores to liquor stores, have already closed and boarded up all street-facing windows and doors. Portland, Ore., has already declared a state of emergency. Stores in Chicago are closing, along with many more in Manhattan.

Such businesses are on high alert after early summer protests that were mainly peaceful demonstrations over the police killing of George Floyd and other Black men and women, along with the larger issue of racism in policing, gave some cover to opportunistic bad actors who committed vandalism and theft.

Rhetoric from President Donald Trump, as former Vice President Joe Biden appears to have a lead in various national polls, has done little to quell any anxiety. Reports surfaced Monday that Trump was planning to declare victory on Tuesday, before the election was officially called. The president has failed repeatedly to condemn violence by his supporters and continued to make false statements about Biden throughout his campaign appearances. So businesses, along with much of the country, are fearful of what could result from an Election Day without a clear winner.

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In Santa Monica, Calif., most stores along its Promenade shopping center are boarded up and closed, while some were attempting to remain open Monday, even as windows were covered with plywood, and plan to be closed at least on Tuesday. Most will likely remain closed on Wednesday as well. Stores that were closed and in the process of being boarded up Monday morning included Lululemon, Burton, Vans, Patagonia and REI, as well as any store selling liquor. Major banks in the area were also closed and being covered and barricaded, along with bike rental stations, an Equinox gym and even a Sweetgreen.

Coach in Beverly Hills boarded up for Election Day. WWD/Kali Hays

Retail sources in L.A. have said that police forces have been widely recommending closures to businesses in major retail hubs, at least on Election Day, and for windows, doors and merchandise to be protected. Many property managers and landlords have been recommending the same, sources said.

It’s tricky to estimate the revenue impact on retailers from additional days of being closed if they decide to do so, but insured losses from property damage stemming from public unrest this year are estimated to exceed $2 billion, according to Tom Johansmeyer, head of Verisk’s Property Claim Services, which investigates disaster losses. But one third of insurance claims due to unrest in late May and early June came from three national retailers.

“Heading into the election, as we contemplate civil unrest and the impact that could come to the insurance industry via retailers, the first thing that comes to mind is large national accounts,” Johansmeyer said.

“If I’m a retailer right now, looking at November, there is a lot to worry about,” he added. “The next week is going to set the tone for the next month. In terms of civil unrest, there could be nothing. The more likely scenario is post-election protests, possibly escalated in different locations, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. We think there is the potential for escalation from Friday night through the weekend because the work week will be done.”

Target, which has boarded up seemingly all of its stores in central parts of L.A. but remains open for the time being, would not comment specifically on its actions. But a representative did allow that the retailer’s “top priority is the safety of our team members and guests.”

“Like many businesses, we’re taking precautionary steps to ensure safety at our stores, including giving our store leaders guidance on how to take care of their teams,” the representative said. “We’ll continue to monitor our communities closely and make decisions accordingly.”

Most other retail in L.A. seems to have decided to simply close, however, pending the results of the election and the reaction by the public to a night that could turn into a week or more of waiting for results.

In Beverly Hills, nearly every store on Rodeo Drive and surrounding streets was already closed and protected on Monday, in one way or another. It’s a much earlier effort than that made during summer, when barricades of stores were going up quickly as the luxury contingent got live reports of protesters heading their way.

Many stores on and around Rodeo Drive simply went for plywood, but Prada, for instance, has a large plastic type of barricade across its entire front, allowing a distorted glimpse of the product and displays within. Stores that went the simple plywood route included Ralph Lauren, Coach, Salvatore Ferragamo, Saint Laurent, Maison Margiela, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, and many more. Representatives of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Compagnie Financiere Richemont could not be reached for comment. A representative of Kering declined to comment. Collectively, these conglomerates operate most of the luxury stores in Beverly Hills. 

One Beverly Hills store that was not yet closed or boarded up on Monday was Gucci, which one source noted has seen sales soar at its Rodeo Drive store since it reopened after L.A. in early summer lifted its stricter lockdown measures related to the coronovirus. While there was a private security detail sitting in cars directly in front of the store just before it opened, an armed security guard would not confirm which brand they were working for. A source did confirm that the store will be closed on Tuesday.

Beverly Hills police were also already present in the city on Monday. And Beverly Hills City Council said late last week it intends to lock down the entire shopping district at least on Tuesday and Wednesday, forbidding any pedestrian and vehicular traffic. That will be extended pending any unrest.

Beverly Hills has also been home to small but raucous groups of Trump supporters most weekends for the last several weeks. Counter protesters often come out as well, and while there has been at least one arrest of a Trump supporter for battery of a counter protester in early October, the protests have remained mostly non-violent. This past weekend, a larger group of Trump supporters, estimated at around 4,000 people, according to local reports based on police statements, took to the streets of Beverly Hills again, starting in front of the Beverly Hills sign and then walking and shouting campaign slogans through the shopping district.

Just a few miles east on Monday, most of the West Hollywood shopping district on and around Melrose Avenue was in the process of closing up shop, too. Trucks carrying sheets of plywood and ladders were lining the streets by mid-morning. The Real Real, which was broken into amid the early days of the summer protests, was being fitted for a barrier, as stores like Acne, Byredo, Linda Farrow, Balmain, Santa Maria Novella, Reebok and Marc Jacobs were closed and being sheltered by plywood.

Balmain on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles being boarded up. WWD/Kali Hays

The Webster, one of the main street-level tenants of the Beverly Center Mall, was also barricaded with pink plywood, as it was during the George Floyd protests, but the indoor mall was open as of Monday. A representative noted that the mall intends to be open on Election Day as well, and said, “We plan to remain open this week.”

Not too far up from there, The Grove shopping center appeared to be in the process of boarding up as well, at least the stores and windows that were street level. The mall was open, however; a representative of the property could not be reached to comment on Election Day plans. But already there was a mix of police and private security parked in several spots around the mall.

One of the shopping areas that seems to be taking no chances is most of the Fairfax district, which was almost entirely closed and boarded up by late Monday morning, including delis, restaurants and jewelers. The area is home to many streetwear brands, including Supreme and Huf, as well as retailers like Flight Club, the high-end sneaker store that was heavily looted one night amid the early summer unrest.

A popular shopping stretch of Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. 

Downtown L.A., too, was beginning to board up on Monday. The area is still being heavily developed as a new urban center for the city, with major mixed use and housing projects under development. But the stores already there, a mix of chains like Nike, Urban Outfitters and Theory, and smaller operations, like those in the Jewelry District, were all either already closed or closing. Sources noted that property managers in the Jewelry District have been urging stores to close and take out all merchandise. Even the California Jewelry Mart was set to close early Monday and remain closed through Wednesday, according to an internal memo.

Small jewelry operations were some of the first stores to experience theft by bad actors amid summer protests, which initially started in Downtown L.A. and moved westward to more monied areas of the city, like Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, over the course of several days.

Los Angeles is not the only city taking early precautions, however — retailers and businesses throughout the U.S. were installing safety measures for fear of potential violence following the election.

In Portland, Ore., the site of months of sometimes violent nightly protests mainly over policing, government leadership is taking a much more risk-averse position. 

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency in the Portland area and is readying the National Guard for potential deployment. This marks the second time in two months that the governor has declared a state of emergency.

While stores are not being directed to close, Portland police chief Chuck Lovell III advised area business owners to stay informed about any safety concerns via Twitter, and to be aware of where events are happening and in proximity to their businesses. Owners have been advised to remove any outdoor furniture, sandwich boards and secure dumpsters so that they cannot be used for barricades or fires.

In Chicago, many retailers and property owners have boarded up their exteriors. Such precautions have also been taken at the Wrigley Building that provides key access to Trump Tower. Luxury stores along the north end of the Magnificent Mile, a popular shopping district, have already boarded up and closed, according to Adam Skaf, a spokesman for the Magnificent Mile Association. And hundreds of business owners and retailers were expected to tune in to a security briefing call Monday night led by deputy mayor of economic and neighborhood development Samir Mayekar.

Chicago saw more than 200 stores hit with vandalism and theft at various points amid Black Lives Matter protests, but the city’s retail has been largely open since June.

“We are all feeling the pressure of this election just because of the amount of uncertainty,” Skaf said. “The police department has a very visible presence and a plan in place for any types of civil unrest. As someone who represents so many businesses and retailers in our downtown district, that gives me a level of assurance that we’re keeping our members informed, and the police and the city are really doing their part.”

In Philadelphia, a curfew is a possibility, according to a spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department. Civil unrest came up again last week following the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man, although his family has said publicly it is not looking to file murder charges against the officers responsible. Target, Foot Locker and Walmart were among the retailers that had merchandise stolen and property damaged amid protesting.

The PPD spokesman noted Monday that the city had seen a number of peaceful demonstrations and there had not been any significant civil unrest in recent days. Stores are not being asked to close. 

Acknowledging that demonstrations could develop in real-time during election week, the PPD has outlined various steps businesses can take to prepare for potential protest activity. These include knowing how to report suspicious activities, keeping property well-lit when closed and leaving the name and number for a business contact near the door so that police officials can easily notify them of any damage.

Washington, D.C., police are also not advising retailers and businesses to board up for Election Day. Instead, businesses are being asked to sign up for real-time alerts from police regarding public safety and other issues, ensure that security cameras are operational and have insurance paperwork and lease agreements in a secure location, among other things.

Like L.A., retailers and businesses in New York are taking a more protective approach in advance of the election, having also seen some theft and vandalism in early summer. By late Monday morning, there appeared to be more pedestrians than cars in the heart of Times Square, but there was by no means an abundance of either.

Major shopping destinations like Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman have already boarded up, along with numerous Fifth Avenue retailers like the NBA store, Dolce & Gabbana, BCBG, Sunglass Hut, Levi’s, Victoria’s Secret and Five Below. Other landmarks like the Empire State Building, The Plaza Hotel and the ESPN Zone are boarded up, too. In Times Square, Forever 21, the Disney store, Champs, Foot Locker, American Eagle Outfitters and other tenants have done the same.

Lower on Fifth Avenue, Marimekko, Ann Taylor, New Balance, Lululemon and CVS had also placed plywood on their exteriors. Even banks like Santander and Bank of America had boarded up select locations.

Monday morning, five NYPD SUVs were parked at the main entrance of The Shops at Columbus Circle, a high-end shopping center in Manhattan on the western edge of Central Park. One police officer standing nearby admitted there will be greater police presence throughout the city, but declined to provide any further specifics.

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