New York City’s reopening is days away. After months of lockdown, businesses were prepared for a marathon slog back to normal. Now, after days of rioting, many are crawling just to reach the start line.
Peaceful crowds have gathered in each of the five boroughs for the last five days to protest police killings of black people. Looters followed. They have broken windows and taken goods from small bodegas to icons of America’s commercial capital and everything in between.
On Tuesday, after a fresh spasm of violence, the streets were carpeted with shattered glass. Stores throughout Midtown and downtown, the once-thriving centers of commerce and pleasure, were sacked. Shop owners and managers wearily prepared to welcome customers who might keep their stores alive and feed their families amid a plague that has killed more than 21,000 New Yorkers and thrown millions into the unemployment lines.
At a bodega on Avenue B, Juan Ignacio Mendez postponed opening from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. to clear debris and remove boards that covered the windows top to bottom. That’s been his daily exercise since Friday — board up overnight to prepare for protests and remove the fortifications in the morning.
“It’s exhausting,” Mendez said. “Am I angry? Yes, I’m angry.”
Mendez, 53, said the emotional toll of the protests and the pandemic has been more severe than the financial toll. He’s been able to keep the store open since early May, serving a maximum of two customers at a time.
“There’s not much to be looking forward to,” he said. “I was looking forward to June so much.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Tuesday news conference that he still plans to begin reopening New York City on June 8, unrest or no unrest.
“It’s hard to believe that just a few days ago, all we were talking about was the pandemic,” the mayor said. “The pandemic is still there and we must address that. We need to reopen this city.”
Helana Natt, executive director of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, said looters have been taking advantage of the pandemic-induced shutdown.
If “the retailers were open and had their employees back, the people that are in the community, that are peaceful protesters would surround their businesses that are open and would prevent the looters that are getting in,” Natt said.
A walk downtown Tuesday morning showed businesses battered into comas: The windows of the Red Lion bar on Bleecker Street still wish pedestrians a happy St. Patrick’s Day. Across the street, New University Pen & Stationery was boarded up and locked shut. Helicopters churned the air overhead. Drills and hammers echoed through the West Village as retailers and restaurants secured their glass fronts.
Grayers, a clothing store at Bleecker and Seventh Avenue, closed its doors March 13. Those doors now are being covered with sheets of wood, a roughly $1,000 expense, said manager Stacy Georgiou.
“We just can’t wait to go back to business,” she said. “We may be out of business.”
The New York Police Department arrested 700 people Monday night, said Commissioner Dermot Shea. While the vast majority of people in the streets vented peacefully, some attacked any business at hand.
“When you see the outrage on the streets and the attack on retail establishments, it’s because of the vastly profound economic inequality that exists in the country,” said Anthony Thompson, a professor of clinical law and a founding faculty director of the Center of Race, Inequality and the Law at New York University. “That rage gets focused in the retail sector because of that inequality.”
“The feeling is that America will not respond,” Thompson said of the killing of young, unarmed African American men and women. So protestors turn to the retail sector. “It’s a place where we know America will publicize this and feel the pain when they can’t go to their Target and Macy’s.”
Macy’s 2.2 million square feet at its Herald Square flagship make it the largest department store in the U.S. Looters invaded it Monday night.
“NYPD responded to the scene and damage has been limited,” said Blair Rosenberg, a Macy’s spokeswoman. “We are grateful none of our employees have been injured. As it relates to re-opening, we’re taking it day by day.”
On Tuesday morning, a 53-year-old construction worker named Scott Corria was drilling up a ribbon of plywood around the store. He had started putting up the 8-foot-tall pieces Sunday, and now he was repairing some that had been smashed.
“We had the whole thing wrapped,” he said. “They broke through.”
A man in Patagonia shorts pulled up on a bike. John Germain, 55, worked for Lehman Brothers as a banker from 1998 to 2008 and had come from his home in Midtown to check on a favorite place. “It’s a vintage store,” he said. “I wanted to see how it fared through the night.”
“I understand why they’re angry, but I don’t understand the violence,” Germain said. “Everyone got on edge because of coronavirus, and the next thing you know, you just need one more excuse for social unrest.”
— With assistance by Jordyn Holman, and Joe Deaux
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