Amid Unrest and Uncertainty, California Retail Still Looks to Reopen

The killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers set off weeks of protests across America and the world. With cities still in flux due to the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers and fashion brands that were set to reopen suffered a setback.

As protests spread, the activity reached some of California’s most prominent retail areas such as Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Calif., and the streets outside of South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif. Many of the protesters were peaceful; however, retailers were hit by vandals and looters who used the protests as cover for their activities. Some defaced retail streets with graffiti while others broke into stores and stole products ranging from high-end sneakers to red-carpet gowns.

As of press time, the Los Angeles Police Department did not have a monetary estimate of the extensive damage that took place in the City of Los Angeles.

Organized retail-crime crews have also been part of the problem, said Dr. Read Hayes, director of the Loss Prevention Research Council and a University of Florida research scientist headquartered in Gainesville, Fla. During the past couple of weeks of unrest, the LPRC has been in contact with police departments and loss-prevention staff of major retailers. It said that organized gangs of thieves followed these protests looking for opportunities. “They’re taking advantage of the chaos and times when police are overwhelmed,” Hayes said. He also mentioned that stores selling popular fashions were hit especially hard.

Retailers responded by covering shattered windows with plywood and resolving to reopen their businesses to serve their customers and their neighborhoods. The question for most retailers affected by the unrest was when they could reopen safely in a market that has continued to reel from the pandemic.

Some retail centers in the Los Angeles area opened on June 10, including Westfield Centers and the Beverly Center. South Coast Plaza reopened June 11. Other shops that reopened were a few M.Fredric stores, such as its Malibu, Calif. location. Select Nordstrom stores were scheduled to reopen June 11. Dover Street Market in Los Angeles’ Arts District also was scheduled to reopen on June 11.

The Pol’ Atteu Beverly Hills atelier was looted on May 30. However, business partners and spouses Pol’ Atteu and Patrik Simpson have resolved to open as soon as they can. They put together a GoFundMe crowdfunding page named Restore and Reopen Pol’ Atteu Beverly Hills to finance the rebuilding of their 27-year-old store located at 9414 Dayton Way, just off of Rodeo Drive.

Simpson said that the crowdfunding page was crucial. “Since we are in Beverly Hills, people think that we can afford to rebuild. But no business can afford the loss that we’ve taken,” Simpson said. More than 100 gowns were stolen, each ranging in price from $3,000 to $10,000. Also stolen were jewelry, accessories and computers. In addition, the shop is the set for their reality series, “Gown and Out in Beverly Hills,” on Amazon Prime Video.

Simpson and Atteu have not put a final estimate on damages, but they are determined to rebuild and reopen. Some friends helped them clean up their 1,000-square-foot store during the week of June 12, including Carolyn Hennessey of the soap opera “General Hospital.” One reason they anticipate getting back to work soon is that they have been commissioned to make a gown for Hennessy for the upcoming Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony.

Looting broke out in Santa Monica on May 31. An estimated 200 properties suffered some damage, said Kathleen Rawson, chief executive officer of Downtown Santa Monica Inc., a nonprofit that works with the City of Santa Monica to manage the business district where the Third Street Promenade is located along with other high streets.

“It was truly heartbreaking to see our beloved downtown treated in such a manner,” Rawson said. “We support peaceful protests and people’s right to express themselves, but we do not support criminal activity, and we saw the difference between protestors and looters that day.”

After many retailers were damaged, her group distributed an emergency resource to assist businesses with processing city permits to rebuild and help them contact companies that could help them secure their properties. Santa Monica residents also dropped by to help clean up.

“What was truly inspiring and beautiful to see was the outpouring of support from residents and others who came out the day following the looting to help clean up our downtown,” Rawson said. “We put out a call on social media, and people really stepped up. There were scores of volunteers with their own brooms, dustpans and garbage bags who were out early in the morning sweeping up broken glass and debris and removing graffiti. These folks worked with the city’s maintenance team and within a few hours were able to clean up most of the damage.”

Alan Au, vice president and co-designer of Jimmy Au’s for Men 5’8” and Under in Los Angeles’ Sherman Oaks area, reopened his store for curbside shopping on June 8. He may reopen his store for limited in-store business on June 18. But he said that he will only reopen his in-store retail on the condition that looting is over and if L.A. County’s COVID-19 cases are declining.

Rioting came to his neighborhood on June 1 when looters broke into a CVS store adjacent to his shop, but his order of plywood had not been delivered by that time so he couldn’t board up 1,500 square feet of window space. The environment became tense when a group came over from the CVS.

“I’m not going to be able to stop them,” Au thought. “Maybe I can convince them to move along. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I don’t want anyone to throw anything at my store.”

So he tried to talk to the group and reminded them about that night’s curfew. None of them would talk to him or make eye contact.

The group dispersed moments later when a man passed by and sternly told them to go home. The man continued to walk without giving his name, Au said.