Riot Glass, salt plows, and guns: How corporate America is getting ready for potential civil unrest after the election

  • Retailers are spending tens of thousands of dollars as they prepare for potential civil unrest following Election Day.
  • Entire shopping districts in some cities will be closed, while some retailers take extreme measures such as positioning snow plows to control pedestrian access or installing unbreakable window glass.
  • Walmart this week removed firearms from its sales floors due to "civil unrest" after protests broke out in Philadelphia following the death of Walter Wallace Jr. The company quickly said the products would be back on the floors a day later. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Retail's favorite holiday, Black Friday, is just around the corner, but before they can welcome eager holiday shoppers, stores will have to survive Election Day.

An already contentious campaign season is projected to result in an unprecedented election, and retailers across the country are gearing up for another round of civil unrest in the aftermath. 

Protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing in May saw over $1 billion in damages over a 13-day period from May 26 to June 8, Axios reported, the costliest in insurance history. 

Activist groups across the country are already planning potential protests and demonstrations for after Election Day, anticipating foul play at the polls or in the ballot counting room. In Philadelphia, progressive groups are banding together to ensure a fair election process, and will stage protests if there appears to be any foul play, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The stakes are high, as the winner of the election will set the course for the US' recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and guide the country's reopening, as 12.6 million Americans remain unemployed.

An influx of mail-in ballots this election cycle will likely delay the announcement of a winner on election night. That departure from Election Day norms is also setting up the country for uncertainty in the days following as the prospect of a contest election lingers and both parties prepare for a 2000-esque showdown to declare a winner.

How retailers are preparing

Already reeling from the effects of the pandemic combined with a summer of nationwide protests curtailing business, retailers are once again preparing for the worst as the country heads to the polls.

As Bloomberg reported, the famed Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif., is going dark, and the entire street won't be accessible to pedestrian or vehicle traffic. Shopping districts in other major cities are staying open but implementing plans in case protesters resort to violence, looting, or vandalism. 

Chicago's Magnificent Mile along Michigan Avenue will be armed with "everything from snow plows to salt trucks" to control crowds, Rich Gamble, chairman of the Magnificent Mile Association, told Bloomberg. 

Some stores are building fortifications as they prepare for the election and spending in the tens of thousands to do so. One industry's misfortune is another's time to shine as ServiceChannel, a broker of sorts for commercial construction work, has seen $20 million in invoices come across its platform for civil unrest claims, CEO Tom Buiocchi told Forbes.  

Boarding up a storefront to withstand vandalism can cost up to $31,000, depending on the structure, Forbes reported. Unbreakable window glass, as Bloomberg reported, is also in high demand with manufacturer Riot Glass turning away new clients to accommodate existing ones, according to CEO Brad Campbell.

That's why some businesses are picking and choosing which locations they'll protect, with flagship stores taking the highest priority for most. 

The extent and duration of the unrest are still unknown as the country hasn't settled on a set end date for ballot counting and both sides will be angling for their candidate. In Portland, Ore., shops downtown are still boarded up as protests have continued for months. 

Walmart won't be pulling guns from its shelves, after all

Walmart reversed a decision to remove firearms from its sales floors amid civil unrest less than one day after the policy was implemented, as Business Insider's Mary Meisenzahl reported. The original announcement Thursday to remove the weapons from stores followed the looting of a Philadelphia Walmart after protests in the city turned violent. The protests began after the death of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man who police shot multiple times after responding to a call about a man with a knife. 

Following the initial announcement, a Walmart spokesperson in a statement to Business Insider cited previous instances of civil unrest in justifying the policy change. Walmart had previously pulled guns from its shelves over the summer as protests gripped the nation following the police killing of George Floyd.

Walmart sells firearms in around 2,350 stores nationwide, and those seeking to purchase one could still do so under the new policy. Stores would shift to an on-request system, Meisenzahl reported, instead of displaying the merchandise on the sales floor.

In its statement quickly reversing the policy, Walmart cited the "geographically isolated" nature of the unrest. 

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