Business

Retailers that boarded up stores are in limbo as the US vote count drags on

Posted November 5, 2020 4:37 p.m. EST

— Some major companies that increased security measures in case there was post-Election Day violence are grappling with the prospect of staying boarded up far longer than planned as the presidential vote count drags on.

Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue, CVS, Target and Macy's are just some of the chains that boarded up store windows in cities including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington.

But neither an election result nor mass protests have materialized. Sporadic demonstrations in swing states so far have focused on election offices, and retailers haven't seen the reprise they'd feared of looting and vandalism that erupted after the killing of George Floyd in late May.

"They're watching it hour-by-hour as we are," says Tom Buiocchi, the CEO of ServiceChannel, an online platform that connects retailers with local contractors.

None of the companies ServiceChannel works with have processed orders to have contractors remove the plywood.

"If it was a clear-cut victory and things were done by Tuesday night, they'd probably have opened by Wednesday," Buiocchi said. "We're entering a murky period now."

Target and CVS said Wednesday that they are monitoring the situation in select markets where the companies have boarded up stores. CVS senior vice president of corporate communications Mike DeAngelis emphasized that most of his company's boarded-up locations are still open and operating.

"We'll make decisions based on each market's local situation to best protect our employees, customers and stores," DeAngelis told CNN Business.

As of Wednesday, Buiocchi said companies were still putting in requests to board up stores. ServiceChannel says it has processed orders to board up about 300 store locations nationwide since Election Day, in addition to the estimated 900 orders it received last week.

The uncertainty over how long to stay boarded up comes at a difficult time for retailers — many of whom had already shut down this year in response to civil unrest over the summer and the Covid-19 lockdowns that began in the spring.

It's unlikely retailers will keep stores boarded up much longer if election lawsuits in battleground states prevent a winner from being determined in the short term, according to the National Retail Foundation, which represents at least 16,000 companies.

"I don't expect retailers will stay boarded up for six weeks," says David French, the trade group's senior vice president of government relations. "It's very difficult to forecast how this was going to play out."

John Boyk, director of field operations for CLM Midwest, a facilities maintenance company that operates in seven Midwestern states, says demand for board-ups didn't slow down on Election Day, and his contractors are having trouble finding enough wood to meet demand. Boyk says plywood sheets that typically cost $8 or $9 are now going for up to $24.

"There's virtually no lumber at our sources," he said. "We've had to go outside the cities in order to get lumber."

Buiocchi said the greatest concern about civil unrest among retailers has come from the luxury goods industry, which saw some flagship stores for high-end brands in New York and Chicago vandalized over the summer.

LVMH, the parent company for brands including Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and Bulgari, did not respond to requests for comment.

Tiffany & Co. stressed that the few stores it has boarded up in markets like New York City and Southern California are still open for business.

Nordstrom says it closed all its US stores early on election night, but reopened them as planned on Wednesday.

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