Retailers respond to weekend protests

Over the weekend, several retail chains nationwide sustained damage during protests, some peaceful, some violent over police killings of Black Americans.​

Among the locations caught in the melees was the Lake Street Target store in Minneapolis near where George Floyd died after a policeman held his knee on his neck for over eight minutes.​ The killing of Floyd sparked protests across the U.S. over the last week. 

On Sunday, the mass merchant said its goal was to reopen the store “in late 2020.” Target also closed another Minneapolis location, along with stores in Oakland, California, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia “until further notice.” Employees of these stores will be paid at elevated COVID-19 wages for up to 14 days for their scheduled shifts and can work at nearby stores, the company said in a statement.

Nordstrom closed all of its stores Sunday after stores, including one at the Grove shopping center in Los Angeles and its Seattle flagship, were damaged. The further closures come as the department store was preparing to reopen several full-line and off-price Rack locations as pandemic-related restrictions ease.

But both retailers joined Nike and others in keeping their focus on the reasons for the protest, rather than on the losses at stores.  

“We are a community in pain,” CEO Brian Cornell wrote in a separate statement posted to the Target site. “That pain is not unique to the Twin Cities — it extends across America. The murder of George Floyd has unleashed the pent-up pain of years, as have the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. We say their names and hold a too-long list of others in our hearts. As a Target team, we’ve huddled, we’ve consoled, we’ve witnessed horrific scenes similar to what’s playing out now and wept that not enough is changing. And as a team we’ve vowed to face pain with purpose.” (Emphasis Cornell’s.)

In an open letter to employees posted publicly on the Nordstrom site, CEO Erik Nordstrom and President and Chief Brand Officer Pete Nordstrom, similarly mentioned those three recent victims by name and said in a statement that their “senseless deaths … and too many others reflect the deeply ingrained racial prejudice and injustice that still exists in our communities today.”

“It is stirring many emotions, which it should,” they said. “The unnecessary and unjust killing of anyone must not be accepted. The issue of race and the experiences of too many people of color cannot be ignored.”

Shawn Grain Carter, professor of fashion business management at the Fashion Institute of Technology, described the activism as a watershed moment for fashion and retail, and a time when these businesses must look to their core values rather than to marketing or public relations goals.

“Nike, Target, Nordstrom, I applaud them — and the rest, they need to get with the program,” she told Retail Dive by phone. “They are leading by example, as opposed to people who like to advise everyone to be like Switzerland and stay neutral in the war. That’s no longer acceptable and that’s what the brands are learning the hard way.”