Macy’s Damage Is Limited, but Looting Deals a Symbolic Blow

In the end, the damage to the store may have been limited. But images of looters smashing windows and running through Macy’s flagship location in Herald Square was another symbolic hit to the already badly battered retailer.

As roving bands of people swarmed through Manhattan late Monday and early Tuesday during protests over the killing of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody, some of them ransacked the city’s most vibrant and valuable retail corridors, from the Upper East Side to Midtown.

But the Macy’s in Herald Square looms larger perhaps than any other store in New York, not only for the company, which draws a significant amount of its brand identity and revenue from the building, which it has occupied since 1902, but also for the broader retail industry.

“Macy’s Herald Square transcends that one company,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents the store’s workers. “For a lot of people, it represents all of retail itself.”

Macy’s, which employs about 123,000 people nationwide, has seen its sales plummet because of the coronavirus pandemic and has been racing to reopen stores as quickly as it can. Macy’s had reopened 330 as of last week, with more than 100 others offering curbside pickup.

“As it relates to reopening, the civil unrest does complicate timing, but we’re taking it day by day,” Blair Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for Macy’s, said in a statement.

Last month, the retailer reported preliminary first-quarter net sales of roughly $3 billion, a 45 percent drop from last year, and an operating loss of as much as $1.1 billion. The company has delayed its formal first-quarter earnings report to July 1 because of the disruptions from the pandemic.

More broadly, the pandemic has dimmed the outlook for department stores, which are generally still hinged to physical locations and largely reliant on malls. Since March, J.C. Penney and the Neiman Marcus Group have filed for bankruptcy, Lord & Taylor has dismissed its entire executive team, and even Nordstrom, which is considered the healthiest chain in the sector, has said it will close 16 of its 116 full-line stores.

Macy’s, which also owns Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury, was still assessing the losses from the mayhem. But a spokeswoman said on Tuesday that no employees had been harmed and that “damage has been limited,” a result of New York police officers responding to the scene. The Herald Square location had been temporarily closed since March because of the pandemic, but a skeleton crew of employees has continued working in the store. The company said that during the weekend about 30 of its roughly 775 stores were closed or had shortened hours because of civil unrest and curfews.

Across the country, hundreds of stores have been damaged and looted during the unrest. Big-box retailers like Walmart and Target have closed many locations temporarily to clean up and make repairs, while some smaller merchants have reported damage that they fear could threaten their viability. The looting has come as unemployment has surged because of the pandemic.

Mr. Appelbaum said that no date was set for the Herald Square store’s reopening and that it was too early to say whether any of the damage would cause additional delays. The union had recently negotiated a plan with the company to reopen the store with precautions to prevent the virus from spreading, including a requirement that all customers wear masks before being allowed to shop inside.

Most of the store’s roughly 3,000 workers have been furloughed without pay, but are still receiving health benefits. Many are black or Hispanic, and have built a career in retailing at Macy’s.

“What I am not hearing from our members is how could they do that to Macy’s,” said Mr. Appelbaum, referring to the damage to the store. “What we are hearing is now is the time to deal with systemic racism.”

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