NEW YORK — In the end, the damage to the store might 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 into early Tuesday during ongoing protests over the killing of a Black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis, some of them ransacked New York’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 the city, 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, 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 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and has been racing to reopen stores as quickly as it can. The retailer reported preliminary first-quarter net sales of roughly $3 billion last month, a 45% drop from last year, and an operating loss of as much as $1.1 billion. The company has delayed its formal first-quarter earnings to July 1 because of the disruptions from the pandemic.
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 would 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 Tuesday no employees were harmed and “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 coronavirus pandemic, but a skeleton crew of employees has continued working in the store. The company said 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 such as Walmart and Target have closed many locations temporarily to clean up and make repairs, while some smaller merchants have reported damage they fear could threaten their viability. The looting has come as unemployment has surged because of the pandemic.
Appelbaum said there had been no date set for the Herald Square store’s reopening and 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 all customers wear masks before being allowed to shop inside.
Since the store’s closure more than two months ago, most of its roughly 3,000 workers have been furloughed without pay but are still receiving health benefits. Many of the store’s workers 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 Appelbaum, referring to the damage to the store. “What we are hearing is now is the time to deal with systemic racism.”