By Lauren Zumbach Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Businesses across the country are taking precautions to guard themselves against any potential threats of violence on election day or in the days thereafter.
The first time Potash Markets' Gold Coast grocery stores were vandalized this summer, the boards covering both stores' windows came down as soon as the damage was repaired.
The damage happened during the civil unrest that followed George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police in May. When one store was hit a second time in August, CEO Art Potash decided to leave the boards up through the election.
"If it can happen once, and then it can happen twice, the door's wide open for how often this is going to happen," he said.
Between the civil unrest this summer, the coronavirus pandemic and a divisive election whose outcome may not be known Tuesday, business owners are weighing the prospect of further unrest in a way they haven't during past elections, said Eric White, executive vice president at security firm Brosnan Risk Consultants.
"It's clearly a potential triggering event," he said.
Shoppers may see more stores boarding up or closing early Monday and Tuesday as businesses take extra safety precautions, and make sure employees have time to vote.
Retailers are used to responding to emergencies like severe storms, but it's harder to predict when and where civil unrest will strike, White said. Precautions also will depend on whether they think employees will be able to get to work and whether customers will feel comfortable shopping.
"I think everybody's being cautious," said Patsy Mullins, whose Gold Coast boutique, Accessorize Chicago, was vandalized in August. "We're just trying to get open and get back to business. That's what I'm anxious for."
Mullins, who only recently was able to reopen and plans to keep her store boarded up through the election, said she was surprised to see some stores on Oak Street, home to many of the city's luxury retailers, remove their boards.
Meanwhile, Macy's boarded up its State Street store Friday. The department store said it was adding security measures at several stores "out of an abundance of caution," but did not say what those measures would include. Beauty retailer Ulta may board up stores, close early or enlist overnight guards in certain locations, spokeswoman Eileen Ziesemer said in an email.
She declined to say which measures the company is considering in Chicago. "We are hopeful for a peaceful week but are taking proactive measures to ensure safety for guests, our associates and our stores," she said.
In the South Shore neighborhood, Local Market Foods plans to have additional security, a manager said. The grocery store wasn't seriously damaged during civil unrest this summer, but nearby businesses were.
Some stores, including J. Crew, Canada Goose and Fleet Feet, will not open Tuesday, , and Chase is closing bank branches early. All said the move was designed to ensure employees had time to vote.
Nordstrom plans to close all U.S. stores early, at 5 p.m. local time, so customers and employees can get home easily and vote.
"Our teams are monitoring the situation in order to be prepared for any activities that might take place across the U.S. on November 3 and potentially in the days following. We're taking steps to help keep our customers and employees safe and our stores secure," the company said in an emailed statement.
Lou Malnati's said its response will depend in part on what precautions the city takes. Public transit shutdowns and raised bridges make it tough for employees to get to and from work, said spokeswoman Mindy Kaplan. A couple of the company's Chicago restaurants were damaged during the unrest in May, and the Michigan Avenue restaurant, which remains temporarily closed, was looted in August.
The company is not planning to close restaurants, but Kaplan said it would keep an eye on the situation. "We just have to be ready for anything," she said.
The city has been planning for the election since the summer, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said last week while outlining a public safety plan. She urged people to keep protests peaceful while acknowledging that emotions will be high regardless of the outcome.
City officials said they will increase police patrols and are prepared to deploy 60 to 300 heavy city vehicles to protect commercial corridors and critical businesses. Police have set up hotlines for businesses and encouraged them to sign up for emergency alerts that can be targeted to specific regions.
The Office of Emergency Management and Communications is encouraging businesses to consider extra precautions like removing flammable materials, securing outdoor furniture, adding security personnel or temporarily altering hours during times of "potential demonstrations and activity," including Election Day.
Magnificent Mile Association Chairman Rich Gamble said he thinks the city is better prepared to react to potential unrest than it was this summer. Police have been more visible on Michigan Avenue and in the surrounding area, and there has been regular communication between the business community, city officials and police.
"There's a greater degree of confidence in the city's ability ... to be responsive," Gamble said. "What you don't know is what individuals and groups may do. There are plans in place to handle a very fluid situation." Bravco Beauty, on Oak Street, took confidence in the increased police presence in the neighborhood.
The store, which was vandalized in May but not August, took its boards down because covering the windows "made it feel dungeony," said Jacqueline Gordon, who helps run the family owned business.
Gordon said Bravco Beauty does not plan to board back up, in part due to the cost. "You hate to do it if nothing happens," she said.
The owners of City Fashions, a Lake Meadows store that was ransacked in May, were reassured by preparations for potential civil unrest in Chicago after a Kentucky grand jury decided not to charge Louisville police officers for the killing of Breonna Taylor shortly after the store reopened in September.
The shopping center "went into full lockdown mode," with two trucks blocking highway exits and a helicopter above the mall, said Edward Kim, whose parents own the store. "It gave me more confidence," he said.
Pattilyn Beals, interim executive director of the Chatham Business Association, said the organization is prepared to support businesses in the neighborhood, which could include bringing in extra security.
"If there is any relief to be had, it's the experience of knowing what to do," she said.
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