Among retailers assessing damages at their stores from looting this week, there’s fear and uncertainty for what might happen in the days ahead.
Chaos in several urban areas around the country could continue, raising concerns about employee and customer safety, and the ability to further phase in store operations this month, or start to, depending on geography.
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Most of the protests in the aftermath of last week’s killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police have been peaceful, though there have been many separate incidents of violence, looting and confrontations with police nationwide.
New York City, which was hit hard with violence and looting Monday evening as protests against racism and police brutality occurred, is scheduled to launch “phase one” of reopening non-essential businesses on June 8, involving curbside pickups and limited staffing.
But executives from New York City retail companies and business improvement districts voiced concerns Tuesday that the looting and damages could delay participation in phase one, and stall subsequent resumption of brick-and-mortar operations that have been shut down due to COVID-19 since mid-March. Union Square, SoHo, Madison Avenue, 34th Street, sections of Brooklyn and other areas saw extensive damage and looting on Monday night.
“Everything has to be re-evaluated,” said Marc Metrick, president of Saks Fifth Avenue, when asked how the occurrences of the last few days could impact phase one in New York and the return of shopping. “Right now we are waiting for directions from the government. What’s most important is the safety of our customers and our employees.”
He said the Saks flagship in Manhattan was not looted or damaged Monday. But Saks stores in Chicago; Chevy Chase, Md.; Boston; San Francisco, and Atlanta have been. “When luxury goods are trampled on and left on the floor, it’s destroyed,” said Metrick.
Macy’s stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn were damaged and looted with a lot of broken windows and stolen merchandise.
“We have sustained damage in a number of our stores and are assessing the impact overall,” a Macy’s spokeswoman told WWD. “Macy’s Herald Square had intruders last night during protest activity in New York City. NYPD responded to the scene, and to date, damage has been limited. Our first concern is the safety of our colleagues and neighbors, and we are grateful none of our employees have been harmed. As it relates to reopening, we’re taking it day by day.”
Bloomingdale’s sustained damage in a number of stores in the U.S. over the course of the last few days.
About 15 stores on Madison Avenue from the mid-Fifties north to 86th Street were damaged and/or looted to varying degrees on Monday evening, including Michael Kors, Hermès, Stuart Weitzman, Duane Reed, Givenchy, J. Mendel, Goyard, Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Longchamps and Paul & Shark.
On Fifth Avenue, “There was some damage — four stores had broken windows — Balenciaga, Aldo, Microsoft and Coach,” said Jerome Barth, president of the Fifth Avenue Association, which extends from 46th to 61st Streets. “I would say the police were very active in the area and did a great job dispersing potential thieves. To our knowledge there was no looting,” within the borders of the Fifth Avenue Association.
Regarding whether retailers would commence phase one on June 8, “My sense is it’s too early to tell,” Barth said. “The retailers are trying to assess the situation and what their intentions are. Everyone had been looking forward to opening in the context of what the state is allowing.”
In Los Angeles, essentially all fashion retail was still not open as of Tuesday, although it’s been greenlighted by officials. In the aftermath of vandalism and burglary following largely peaceful protesting over the last several days, L.A. businesses are under early curfews in certain areas such as Beverly Hills where businesses must close at 1:30 p.m., and Santa Monica, where businesses must close at 4:30 p.m. Many major retailers and brands, Urban Outfitters and Gucci among them, had no specific date for reopening. And many smaller businesses and shops that have experienced extensive damage and loss of merchandise will likely need many weeks before reopening.
A spokeswoman for The Beverly Center, a Taubman mall in West L.A. with many luxury shops, said: “Our opening decisions are made in real-time with input from local authorities. The decision regarding whether or not we will open tomorrow will be made tomorrow, thus we are not setting an opening date.”
All Nordstrom, Adidas and Reebok stores remain closed throughout the U.S., and Target has kept over 200 stores closed in recent days, including dozens in California due to the unrest. Ulta also has closed some stores across the country.
A Sephora spokeswoman said, “We are deeply saddened by the recent loss of George Floyd and the pain experienced by African Americans and communities of color across America. While there was some damage to several of our New York stores last night, we will make the necessary repairs. All of our New York stores were not yet scheduled to reopen, and all will remain closed as we monitor this quickly evolving situation. All employees staffed at these stores will be paid and receive benefits as planned, as well as access to counseling and support resources. Right now, the safety of our employees and clients is our most important priority.”
More than 300 CVS Pharmacies in 25 states, including over a dozen in New York City, were damaged over the past several days, a company spokeswoman said.
A spokesman for H&M said, “Regarding reopenings, we will continue monitoring the situation.”
With looting continuing in Seattle, the city’s police provided businesses with suggestions for securing stores and construction sites. Posting emergency contact numbers on the front and rear doors, removing all expensive items, keeping cash registers open to show they’re empty of cash, installing cameras and activating alarms were among the suggestions.
Curfews were still in place Chicago and Portland, Ore., which each experienced millions of dollars in damage to businesses.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city is going forward with the phase three reopening plan on Wednesday, which allows nonessential retail to open with limited capacity and required updated safety guidelines.
St. Louis also experienced more violence Monday night, with four police officers being shot. A citywide curfew was in place for Tuesday night. Susan Sherman, cofounder of the St. Louis Fashion Fund, which supports fashion and retail businesses, said, “It’s the same that we’re seeing in a lot of the other cities where the looters came in. There have been the peaceful protesters and then these other people who really seem to want to wreak havoc.”
Retailers and designers were just starting to reopen their businesses before this recent wave of civic unrest. “Now we’re telling everyone to be careful and to leave by three o’clock. We’d taken everything off the floor a long time ago just because we’re downtown on somewhat of a quiet street. It’s not unlike what’s going on everywhere quite frankly, which is so upsetting and concerning,” Sherman said. “We’re just trying to stay strong and to have a meaningful dialogue with people. We were just starting to re-support our boutiques and retail. Starting last week, Saks was totally open, Neiman Marcus did curbside and our boutiques were opening with limited hours, masks and the usual precautions. We were starting to feel like we were making some headway.”
Eager to help in any way that she can, Sherman said she has spoken with a member of the Urban League. “I’m feeling pain like everybody. I want to know how can I help individually and how can the fashion fund help, too.”
Back in New York, Barbara Blair, president of the Garment District Alliance in New York, said, “We got hit last night. We had 30 stores with broken windows.” However, she cited 23rd Street, 14th Street, Washington Square, SoHo, and NoHo as having suffered even more extensive damage than the Garment District., where a wide range of businesses including United Banks, PAX, Valley Bank, CVS, Duane Reade, a jewelry store, delis, and Cohen’s Optical experienced vandalism.
“We had been planning a slow reopening for June 8. No one is going to come racing back. No one will want to ride the subway. Many ground floor retailers said last week that they weren’t going to reopen until the upstairs businesses returned. If we don’t have a customer, it’s not worth our effort,” Blair said. “Right now everyone is battening down the hatches…it is not just about COVID[-19] anymore.”
Jeffrey LeFrancois, executive director of the Meatpacking Business Improvement District, said that 70 percent of the 200-plus property owners have now boarded up their storefronts, with the majority doing so Monday. At least 15 to 20 storefronts had been damaged by Monday. Retailers that were not boarded up had glass storefronts broken and “attempts were aggressively made to remove plywood from stores,” including those that had been looted the night before.
“The tendency that I am seeing is a clear desire for aggression and destruction. What is the point of re-looting a location other than to continue to wreak havoc and cause destruction,” LeFrancois said. “Between the goods that were stolen and the property damage, it is significant…I would describe the district as having been heavily fortified right now. Midtown took the bulk of the attention Monday and SoHo and Union Square continue to be a real target. My worry is that as this looting and rioting behavior continues, they are going to target other neighborhoods and potentially the Meatpacking District.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had instituted an 11 p.m. curfew on Monday night, adjusted it for Tuesday to 8 p.m.
In addition to the increased presence of New York Police Department officers, the district’s public safety officers are on-the-ground “to deter, report, retreat.” Numerous property owners have also hired outside security. LeFrancois said retailers have been advised to remove merchandise and any electronics to operate the store, keep lights on, and he noted that retailers can be referred to contractors and security firms if needed. “But as a business improvement district, there is only so much that we can do in that regard.”
LeFrancois was also among those uncertain how next week’s phase-one reopening will be affected. “It is not the protesters that are making any issues or problems in the Meatpacking District. It is people taking advantage of the situation to loot and cause damage to property. That certainly could affect the neighborhood reopening.”
Barth of the Fifth Avenue Association said retailers in different parts of the city have been communicating in an attempt to coordinate safety protocols for staff and consumers, even between competitors. “There have been lots of communication not only along Fifth Avenue, but also with Madison Avenue, Nordstrom, Macy’s. People want to come to the right procedures and communicate to the public effectively.”
He said there have been calls among managers of different department stores, and between BID’s and business groups, on an informal, ad hoc basis. Nevertheless, “It’s been effective and very fast,” he said. Some of the safety and health measures “are going to be widespread, others more store-specific. It’s pretty standard that store employees will wear masks, and require and offer them to consumers.”
It’s also likely, that certain merchants will ask clients not to touch merchandise and will have sales associates bring items to them, and if the merchandise is touched, it gets put aside for 24 hours, Barth added. “For the merchants, it’s critical to reassure the public,” that they’re safe at the stores.
Along Madison Avenue on Tuesday, “businesses [were] meeting with the police department, making police reports, and continuing to make sure stores are secure and safe, respecting this is still a pandemic and we are about to enter phase one,” said Matthew Bauer, president of Madison Avenue Business Improvement District. “We have seen our NYPD following up with the stores. The 19th Precinct has been very engaged. They are very responsive.”
Bauer did acknowledge that because businesses along the avenue are working on security-related issues, repairing their stores and assessing damages, some may not have enough time to do “all the important planning for phase one…there are important benchmarks retailers have to do before opening for curbside. All this work [safety and health precautions] has to get done. This could affect that timing. The beginning of phase one is so important because it means people are going to return to work, and you can’t get all the workers back in phase two until phase one is complete. It’s so important for the economy.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the New York City Police Department had made 800 arrests in recent days due to the riots. That total had doubled since Monday, when the NYPD had 355 arrests, according to a NYPD spokesman.
Along the Broadway corridor of NoHo, 17 of the 67 retailers have been damaged in recent days, according to NoHo BID executive director Cordelia Persen. In addition, some vacant storefronts in the neighborhood have been broken into in recent nights. Adidas, Urban Outfitters, Kith, Foot Locker and Journeys being among the stores that have been hardest hit and have been struck on consecutive nights, according to Persen. Urban Outfitters had its boarding pulled down Monday for the third consecutive night and other retailers were also hit again, she said. Along Broadway, at least 75 percent of the stores were covered with plywood Tuesday.
“Our business owners are scared,” Persen said. “When they get hit more than once, they probably haven’t lost that much merchandise. It’s [that] there is so much damage. They want to open. Businesses want to get ready to reopen. The longer this goes on, the tighter they are getting locked up…The issue with the city is that different neighborhoods are being affected extremely differently. You don’t want blanket guidelines.”