Retailers, Battered by Pandemic, Now Confront Protests

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People smashed the front doors of a Walmart in Peoria, Ill. They ransacked an Apple store in Philadelphia and broke the windows at Nordstrom’s flagship in Seattle, its hometown, while throwing merchandise into the crowds outside.

The outbreak of protests and riots during the weekend roiled retailers of all stripes, adding new stress to an industry that has already been upended by the coronavirus pandemic since March. But even as major chains boarded up stores and halted operations, they largely sought to convey empathy for protesters following the death of a black man, George Floyd, while in police custody, and did not condemn the damage to their businesses. Many large retailers would not discuss the extent of the damage or how many stores they had to close because of the unrest.

“The events of this weekend are one more painful reminder that injustice remains in our world,” Nordstrom said on its website on Monday. “We can fix the damage to our stores. Windows and merchandise can be replaced. We continue to believe as strongly as ever that tremendous change is needed to address the issues facing Black people in our country today.”

Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, said in a memo to employees: “We must remain vigilant in standing together against racism and discrimination. Doing so is not only at the heart of the values of our company, it’s at the core of the most basic principles of human rights, dignity and justice.”

Target, which is based in Minneapolis, where Mr. Floyd was killed, said over the weekend that about 200 stores would close or have shorter hours as a result of protests and looting. On Monday, the chain said that it was no longer sharing the number of affected stores “as the situation remains incredibly dynamic,” and emphasized its commitment to rebuilding and reopening damaged locations while supporting the Minneapolis and St. Paul communities.

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CVS said that more than 250 locations across 21 states faced varying levels of damage from protest activity and that 60 stores remained closed while repairs were made. Adidas, which also sells the Reebok brand, said that after some stores were damaged during protests, it decided to close all its retail stores in the United States “until further notice.” Nike and Apple also closed some stores.

Denise Moore, a member of the City Council in Peoria, Ill., said there seemed to be no obvious pattern for which stores were targeted and damaged. A laundromat, a shoe store that sold largely orthopedic shoes and a Walmart — all had their windows smashed.

Ms. Moore, who is the first African-American woman elected to the Peoria City Council and represents a district with a large minority population, said she found the professions of empathy from large retailers like Walmart to ring hollow.

“It would be better for Walmart to respect their workers and pay them a livable wage,” Ms. Moore said on Monday. “They take so much from this community.”

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Credit…John Minchillo/Associated Press

The Walmart in Peoria was one of several dozen that were damaged over the weekend. Social media and local news reports showed images of looting at dozens of Walmart stores from California to Massachusetts, and many locations had to close temporarily because of the unrest.

In a statement, a Walmart spokesman said the company was “monitoring this situation closely as it develops and will continue closing stores in select markets as a safety precaution for our customers and associates.”

The retailer said it would continue to pay workers while the stores remained closed.

Target and Gap, which also owns Old Navy, Athleta, Intermix and Banana Republic, also said that they would pay employees for scheduled shifts at closed stores and potentially redeploy workers to other locations.

Still, the damage comes just as retailers, especially those that sell clothing and other nonessential items, were beginning to open up after they were forced to shutter in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“We’re all crossing our fingers that this period will be a short one,” said Matthew W. Lazenby, chief executive of Whitman Family Development, which oversees the high-end Bal Harbour Shops outside Miami.

“This pandemic has hit retail hard and of course, just as a lot of these stores are starting to try to bounce back, the civil unrest that spread this weekend has forced a lot of stores to close,” Mr. Lazenby said. “People are already nervous and already have some trepidation around the public health risk so this on top of that doesn’t make it any better.”

Even though the shopping center is miles from the site of protests in downtown Miami and in Fort Lauderdale, a handful of retailers, including Tiffany, Moncler, Saks Fifth Avenue and Intermix, which is owned by Gap, erected barricades in front of their stores on Sunday, Mr. Lazenby said. The stores took the step as Miami-Dade County announced a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Sunday, he said, adding that the center had just reopened on May 18.

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