Election anxiety, civil unrest: Boarded up stores in US as sign of election uneasiness

Washington D.C.: After a year marked by unrest and upheaval, retailers around the country are taking sweeping measures — and spending millions — to protect their stores during a high-stakes presidential election that could quickly turn contentious. Saks Fifth Avenue and CVS are boarding up store windows and adding extra security at some locations, while Neiman Marcus is closing all stores at 5 p.m. on Election Day. Others are closing altogether on Tuesday, or providing paid time off for employees to vote or volunteer at the polls.

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“The safety of our customers, associates, and communities, as well as the protection of our physical assets, is of utmost importance,” Nicole Schoenberg, a spokeswoman for Saks Fifth Avenue, said in a statement.

The election is the latest wild card for retailers, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and a summer of civil unrest. The May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody in Minneapolis sparked protests across the country, including some that turned violent. Stores across the country were vandalized, leading some retailers such as Target and Nordstrom to abruptly shutter locations, and others to board up windows and step up security.

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Retailers have already sustained an estimated $1 billion in insured losses from property damage and theft this year, according to early estimates from the Insurance Information Institute, making this year’s protests “the costliest civil disorder in U.S. history.”

Walmart last week removed all guns and ammunition from thousands of store displays, citing fears of “civil unrest” after some properties were ransacked when rioting broke out in Philadelphia following the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man whose family said he was in the midst of a mental health crisis. The company later reversed its decision, saying “incidents have remained geographically isolated.”

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Commercial security companies and contractors say they’ve been fielding round-the-clock calls from business owners who are worried about protests and riots.

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