Stores in the US are bracing for destruction following the election

This plywood barricade outside a Louis Vuitton store in Chicago shows how stores in the US are preparing for the election.
This plywood barricade outside a Louis Vuitton store in Chicago shows how stores in the US are preparing for the election.
Image: Reuters/Moe Zoyari
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Store owners in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and other cities are preparing for the US election. They’re ordering crowd-control barricades, plywood to board up windows, and putting contractors on standby so they’re available if needed. They’re also auditing their security systems and requesting more guards.

“They are anticipating the strong potential of election-related social unrest, no matter who wins,” says Tom Buiocchi, CEO of ServiceChannel, an online platform that connects companies with local contractors for maintenance work and other services, including board-ups and protective measures.

Frustrations have run high in US cities, primarily due to outrage over police violence against Black Americans. Some demonstrators and opportunists have smashed shop windows and looted, most notably this June during the protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd. Many stores, especially those full of expensive luxury goods, have reacted by blocking off their windows with plywood and enhancing other protections. Now with a tense election nearing, they’re taking preemptive steps to prepare for turmoil that could last days.

ServiceChannel, which works with some 550 brands to help them maintain more than 350,000 locations globally, says in August customers started considering what they would do around the election. They recently began placing orders. As of Oct. 29, companies including at least 10 luxury brands had ordered board ups or other security measures at 539 locations around the US. More than half the orders came in this week, suggesting companies are taking preventive measures at an accelerating rate.

Last week, Reuters also reported more than two dozen security consultants, contractors, insurers, and store employees it spoke with said companies are taking steps to protect stores around the election.

So far, the measures aren’t as widespread as those during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US. ServiceChannel says it received more than 4,000 work orders for board-ups in just over a week spanning the end of May and beginning of June. But the precautions show the risks companies anticipate around the US election, the outcome of which could take days or more to emerge, especially if current US president Donald Trump loses and refuses to concede.

For businesses already struggling because of the pandemic, it’s an added burden. Boarding up a store thoroughly can cost more than $5,000, and even up to $20,000 for a large store, according to ServiceChannel. On the other hand, the price of damaged property and stolen goods can be high. In August, sneaker retailer Foot Locker reported that costs across its stores connected to “recent social unrest” totaled $18 million that quarter.

Buiocchi says his customers hope nothing happens, of course, but they’re preparing in case something does. At the same time, nobody wants to be the first to board up stores because they worry how it will look to the surrounding community. “It’s a very delicate situation,” he says, “Most people have planned and they’re holding their cards right now.”

This story has been updated with ServiceChannel’s latest count of stores that have placed work orders related to election security as of Oct. 29.