Nordstrom, the high-end department store chain, said it plans to move up to some of its 350 stores and hire additional security for election day on Tuesday. Tiffany & Company, the luxury jeweler, said that “the windows of some stores in key cities will be closed in anticipation of possible election-related activity.” Saks Fifth Avenue said it was “implementing additional security measures in some locations in the event of civil unrest due to the ongoing elections.”
In Beverly Hills, the police said they would Take a “proactive approach” and shut down Rodeo Drive, a renowned gang of luxury retailers, Tuesday and Wednesday, citing the likelihood of increased “protest activity”. Police, working with private security firms, said they would also be on “full alert” across Beverly Hills from Halloween through election week.
The nation is on the cutting edge of technology as the bitter presidential competition finally draws to a close, the latest flash point in a deadly year that has included the pandemic and widespread protests for social justice. Concern has been mounting for months that the election result could lead to civil unrest, whoever wins. In the retail industry, many businesses aren’t just worried about possible chaos – they plan for it.
To show just how volatile the situation seems for the industry, 120 representatives from 60 retail brands attended a video conference this week hosted by the National Retail Federation, which involved training for store employees on how to defuse tensions between clients, including those related to the election. The trade group also hired security consultants who prepared retailers on areas across the country likely to be the most volatile when polling stations close.
“I’m over 50 and I didn’t think I would live to see this,” said Shane Fernett, who owns a subcontracting business in Colorado Springs, Colo., And who sources plywood for his. retail business. customers. “You read about it in third world countries, not America.”
For the retail industry, 2020 has been filled with bankruptcies, store closings and plummeting sales as tens of millions of Americans grapple with job losses due to the pandemic. Protests against police violence against black citizens sent millions to the streets, demonstrations that in some cases turned into looting and burning of shops in several cities. Concerns over the unrest around the election were stoked by President Trump, who declined to say whether he would agree to a peaceful transfer of power if his Democratic challenger, Joseph R. Biden Jr., was victorious.
Protests erupted again this week after Walter Wallace Jr., a black man with mental health issues who carried a knife, was killed by police in Philadelphia. This sparked looting and clashes with police in parts of the city. Citing civil unrest in Philadelphia, Walmart said Thursday it was removing all of its firearms and ammunition from retail outlets across the country. Walmart said on Friday it was handing over its arms to the sales floor after determining that the unrest incidents “have remained geographically isolated.”
This year, companies have already suffered at least $ 1 billion in insured losses due to looting and vandalism largely caused by the murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer in May, according to an estimate cited by Insurance Information Institute, an industrial group.
This is predicted to be the costliest period of civil unrest in history, possibly exceeding the damage caused by the 1992 Los Angeles riots and numerous civil rights protests of the late 1960s.
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The situation in 2020 drew comparisons to the protests of the 1960s, but Derek Hyra, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the American University, said recent unrest had been more widespread geographically, affecting a wider range. companies.
“Most of the riots and fires in the 1960s occurred in the geography of low-income black spaces,” Hyra said. “In the unrest of 2020, more has happened downtown and in wealthy areas.
“It’s not just urban America,” he added. “The protests took place in the suburbs, in the rural areas.”
Protecting properties from potential damage is not a simple decision. Retailers may risk alienating their customers by erecting plywood, especially if the anticipated troubles do not materialize.
“You send a message when you do this,” said Stephanie Martz, general counsel for the National Retail Federation. “You don’t necessarily want to engage in this kind of grim forecasting.”
Some large companies keep their plans vague.
Target, which has approximately 1,900 stores, said in a statement: “Like many companies, we take precautionary measures to keep our stores safe, including giving our store managers advice on how to take care of their teams. ”
A spokesperson for CVS, which operates nearly 10,000 stores, said: “Our local management teams are empowered to take the actions they believe will best ensure the safety of our stores, employees and customers. This includes the possibility of boarding in certain stores. “
Gap Inc., which has more than 2,000 stores in North America, said it has “contingency plans in place for any issues that may arise and will continue to monitor the situation closely and close next week ”.
Behind the scenes, however, many companies are making explicit preparations.
Tom Buiocchi, who runs an online platform called ServiceChannel that connects retailers with local entrepreneurs in cities across the country, said more than 500 stores have filled out work orders to board or take other protective measures before. the elections.
He said he had discussions this week with a group of luxury retailers who were reluctant to be the first to take visible precautions. “No one wants to be the only one to embark on a community; it may be off the mark, ”Buiocchi said.
Some retailers have debated whether erecting signs would make it more of a target. Others are taking action like buying screws for plywood different from the ones they used in June, in the hope of outwitting the looters with screw guns. Business on-boarding costs can range from a few hundred dollars to $ 31,000 for large stores with window displays.
For those stores that will remain open through election night and the uncertain days that could follow, their workers will once again be in a volatile situation. Already retail workers face the potential for violence trying to ensure customers wear masks to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Election week could present more dangers.
Training offered by the retail federation was originally aimed at helping workers defuse tense situations around mask wearing by advising employees to make non-threatening eye contact and speak empathetically, Ms. Martz, the group’s main lawyer.
She acknowledged that there could be additional danger to workers on Tuesday evening, as police will likely be exhausted in the event of protests. “People are so divided and this is such a powder keg,” Ms. Martz said.
All of this is a stark reminder of the tense political situation in the country.
“Maybe in other countries, protest and chaos are more commonly understood around the transfer of power like a presidential election or a prime minister,” said Professor Hyra of the American University. But in the United States, “there has been such a clear understanding that we live in a democracy and whoever wins the Electoral College, there is a peaceful transfer of power.
Mr. Fernett, the Colorado contractor, said he recently purchased a two-year supply of plywood and 2-by-4 planks at the request of concerned retailers.
He takes his own precautions. He has removed his company name, Jack of All Trades, from his company’s trucks and demands that his technicians work in pairs next week for their own safety.
“Our local lumber yard asked what was going on, why such a large order,” said Fernett. “I said, we think all hell is going to break loose. That’s why we source our supplies. Hope we don’t need to use it.