Continuing Civil Unrest Leaves Retail Districts Under A Permanent Threat
Florence Hardy was just getting her business, ReJuve Rejuvenation Suites, started at its new location in The Shops At North Bridge when the coronavirus pandemic shut the mall down. That was just the beginning of her rest and relaxation studio’s troubles. The civil unrest of late May and early June, which saw looters shatter windows all along The Magnificent Mile and surrounding Gold Coast streets, led many other local businesses to close yet again.
And this week, another episode of vandalism and looting hit the luxury district. City officials contend it was a chain of events kicked off by a police shooting in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood, and it left business owners like Hardy to sweep up broken glass and question whether Magnificent Mile locations are still viable.
“People look at downtown and think it’s all these big businesses that have insurance, but there are a lot of small businesses sprinkled throughout the district,” she said. “We are a new business and we keep taking hit after hit.”
Hardy was lucky in one way. Her studio doesn’t sell consumer goods, so little was stolen when looters broke into the mall at 520 North Michigan Ave. But ReJuve brings in many Magnificent Mile shoppers looking for a place to relax and perhaps meditate, so Hardy’s chief worry is what happens to her indoor neighbors.
“They were cleaned out for the most part,” she said.
“The looting, property damage and violence overnight are a major setback to our member businesses,” The Magnificent Mile Association CEO Kimberly Bares said. “Many retailers are still closed, and some will remain boarded until further notice. The extent of damage is severe on Oak Street with our luxury retailers, and each of our three vertical malls were infiltrated.”
Hardy said she supported the peaceful protests in late May and June. But she has little patience for the latest episode.
“This was straight-up looting and criminality,” she said.
What made it worse was that the damage done to the Magnificent Mile and many other shopping districts in the spring had seemed like a one-time incident, connected to the extraordinary protests that were then erupting all over the nation, Hardy added. But this vandalism came as a surprise, leading her and other retailers to wonder if such disorder will be a regular occurrence.
“These are challenges that no business can really be prepared for,” she said.
Hundreds of looters set off in car caravans late Sunday night to the Magnificent Mile, the Clybourn Corridor and other retail districts, after rumors flew on social media that Chicago police officers had earlier that day shot a 15-year-old in Englewood, according to a report in Block Club Chicago.
Police officials on Monday said Latrell Allen, the now-hospitalized suspect, is 20 and had pointed a gun at officers. He is expected to recover and has been charged with first-degree attempted murder. The officers involved were not wearing body cameras, officials said.
“Quite a few people misunderstood what had happened,” the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago Senior Director of Policy & Programs Chris Patterson said. “There were also some bad actors pushing lies knowing that could incite people to violence.”
Hardy, a corporate attorney-turned-entrepreneur, started ReJuve in 2019 as a pop-up location in Block 37, a Loop shopping mall, after noticing she and other professionals typically rushed around downtown for several meetings a day but in between had no place to rest, relax or take a nap.
After five months, she jumped at the chance to open in the North Bridge mall, which meant a big customer pool of shoppers, busy professionals and healthcare workers from the many nearby hospitals.
“To be on the Magnificent Mile is something most businesses want to do but can’t,” she said.
But if the looted businesses decide to vacate the district, ReJuve will be at risk. The many well-known brands there, which include Nordstrom and Peloton, drive much of the foot traffic, Hardy said. The mall is closed, and property managers have not said when it will reopen.
“We’re not a strong enough brand to do it on our own. We’ll stay as long as it’s possible for us to do so, but when it’s not, we won’t.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown criticized Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx for going easy on people involved in this year’s first wave of looting, saying it emboldened many to go on another spree.
“These people need to be held accountable and not cycled through the system,” Lightfoot said in a Monday morning press conference.
Foxx countered that her office had only refused to charge peaceful protesters arrested for violating curfew and that it is prosecuting most of the hundreds arrested during the spring disorder on felony charges. She vowed to do likewise with those arrested this week on serious charges.
In addition to restricting overnight access to downtown by lifting bridges over the Chicago River, Lightfoot and Brown said a group of detectives would be detailed to closely examine security camera footage from stores throughout the looted areas and identify suspects.
Bares said her association met with Lightfoot, Brown and Foxx’s office and urged the city to establish a permanent police presence in the Magnificent Mile area and vigorously prosecute offenders.
“We hope that CPD's new Critical Incident Response Team will help restore the confidence of residents, visitors and workers and bring a sense of safety in our district,” she said.
Community activists hope the city will also respond in ways that don’t involve policing strategies.
“There are some situations where increased policing can be effective,” Patterson said. “But we have to expand the playbook when it comes to addressing rising crime.”
The Institute For Nonviolence Chicago, Patterson’s West Side nonprofit, addresses root causes of violence in communities of color, he added.
“I don’t want to make excuses for people who are robbing and looting; that behavior is not acceptable. But there always seems to be a lot of money for increasing police presence but little money for things like making sure schools have enough library books. We need to take a look at how we serve under-resourced communities.”
Lightfoot said after taking over City Hall in 2019 that redirecting resources to neglected communities on the South and West Sides would be a hallmark of her administration. Late last year, she announced an economic initiative that will eventually funnel an additional $750M in public funds to needy neighborhoods
That will help, Patterson said, but it’s also going to take other kinds of outreach.
“Organizations like ours are trying to help people adopt new communication styles, so when you’re frustrated and angry, you don’t just start looting.”
Talking can work, he added. On Monday, Patterson was out on the West Side near Madison Street and Karlov Avenue, where an angry crowd had gathered to protest the previous day’s shooting. He credits Chicago Police Department’s 11th District Commander Darrell Spencer with defusing the situation.
“He was out there and just kept talking with everyone, reasoning with everyone, and the crowd calmed down.”
Patterson also hopes the commercial real estate industry can help address the inequities that he said helped fuel much of the recent unrest. That could involve pressing for police reform or advocating to allocate more resources for South Side and West Side neighborhoods.
“Imagine if retail merchants, who have a lot of influence and power, especially those in the downtown area, let people know they had their back and put their voices behind reform.”