In Shanghai, day-to-day life for many luxury retailers has started — slowly — returning to normal. After almost two months of stringent lockdowns enforced by Chinese authorities hoping to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, retailers and restaurants are cautiously reopening for business, alongside the first sunny rays of spring.
In Europe, however, where millions of citizens have been living under national shutdowns for more than a week, stores in famous retail destinations have bolted their doors. Grates and window shades have been drawn at flagship luxury stores on the Place Vendôme in Paris and Via Montenapoleone in Milan.
In London, department stores like Harrods and Selfridges, and Bond Street boutiques like Burberry and Chopard, have cleared jewels and stock from plain sight. Little wonder, given that for the next three weeks at least not a single customer will be walking through the doors.
But in New York, where the cobbled streets of SoHo have shuddered to a standstill as state measures to slow the spread of the virus have taken hold, a number of elegant luxury boutiques, including Fendi, Celine and Chanel, did not just shutter storefronts this week; they had them boarded up with vast sheets of plywood, as if in anticipation of riots and civil disobedience, similar to how they react to European protests.
The decision by President Trump last Friday to declare a state of emergency brought thousands of temporary store closures across the country. Many retailers are now facing difficult decisions about staff and consumer safety, as well as their long-term financial survival. But the move by some well-heeled SoHo stores to fortify themselves indicated that preparations for coming weeks are being undertaken with every eventuality in mind.
Clearly, their owners were not allayed by reports from the New York Police Department that crime levels had dropped significantly in the last week. According to N.Y.P.D. data, major felonies fell 17 percent between March 16, the day after Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered schools closed, and March 22, compared to the same period last year. Grand larceny was down 31 percent, misdemeanor assaults by 21 percent and major felonies by 17 percent.
And fears have now spread beyond New York, with boarded up storefronts appearing on 14th Street in Washington and Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, Union Square in San Francisco and the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, where Christian Louboutin, Dolce & Gabbana and Giorgio Armani have all walled off their storefronts. Social media users are posting images of once-buzzing retail arteries newly silent and potentially bracing for civil unrest.
Few of the retailers with boarded up stores were willing to discuss their measures — or why their approach in the United States is different from that taken elsewhere. LVMH Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton, Kering and Chanel, all French companies that grappled with looting in Paris during the gilets jaunes protests last year, could not be reached for comment. (Toward the end of the week, the Louis Vuitton store on Place Vendôme added additional plexiglass guards over its windows.) Others alluded to overarching motivations and security measures without dwelling on specifics.
“Our first priority is to help protect our employees, consumers, partners and communities and to ensure we are doing our part to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” said John Idol, the chief executive of Capri Holdings, which owns Versace, Jimmy Choo and Michael Kors. “I am proud of our team and our partners as they support each other and their communities during this time of uncertainty.”
Mark Dicus, the executive director of the SoHo Broadway Initiative business improvement district, said he had reached out to SoHo landlords and retailers last week urging them to consider alternatives to boarding up windows. Owners worried about securing their businesses, he said, should first consider hiring security firms or keeping interior lights on.
“Boarding up your storefront makes it so that people on the street can’t see inside,” he said. “That might be more appealing to those looking for break in opportunities.” Mr. Dicus added that the approach could add to residents’ anxieties at an already stressful time.
“We want to maintain a sense of normalcy and make sure our neighborhoods are safe,” he said. “We feel there are ways to take care of that without resorting to drastic measures like boarding up storefronts.”
And to, perhaps, ready them for the future.
After all, in Shanghai this week, following weeks when apartment blocks became fortresses and shopping districts wastelands, many luxury businesses started to welcome customers back with open arms (and in some cases, with thermometers and hand sanitizer at the doors). Malls and shops have started to reopen, with people eager to get out after being confined to their homes.
Shoppers reported a queue forming outside a Chanel boutique in Shanghai, while customers emerged with bags from stores such as Prada and Gucci.
“Everyone, and I mean everyone, is still wearing a face mask — they are required for entry into most stores,” said Heather Kaye, a swimwear brand entrepreneur who had ventured out to buy headphones. No one asked to see her Alipay-generated health QR code, part of system that assigns users a color code — green, yellow or red — indicating their health status. (Cafes, restaurants and shopping malls throughout China are increasingly requesting to see the green QR code before granting permission to enter.)
“Things aren’t quite back to pre-virus levels,” Ms. Kaye continued. “But the malls are definitely buzzing once again.”