Plywood is the face of 14th Street NW storefronts leased by West Elm, J. Crew and Sephora, as well as the Michelin-star-rated restaurant Bresca. In Adams Morgan, a handful of workers last week installed wood over windows at the 220-room Line hotel, which recently shuttered and laid off 58 workers.
At CityCenter downtown, where apartments rent for as much as $6,400 a month, workers on Friday covered the windows of a Louis Vuitton shop. A few yards away, the Dior store’s shelves and glass cases have been emptied.
“We have closed until further notice,” a note on the door announces.
Around the corner, Loro Piana, a purveyor of Italian couture, has been refaced with wood that matches its red awning. A couple of doors away, a temporary black wall conceals what’s behind the windows of a Carolina Herrera shop.
“What happened to Washington?” a woman asked as she strolled by, declining to give her name because, she said, she works in politics. “Every day, I come out here, and another store has done it. What do they think is going to happen?”
Fear of the coronavirus has altered the shape of Americans’ indoor life, prompting many to stock up on black beans and toilet paper, write their wills and work at home alongside spouses and children. The virus is also transforming the look and feel of the outdoors, silencing the country’s busiest thoroughfares as government officials in many locales have forced the closure of all but what are regarded as essential businesses.
In response, many proprietors across the country — and around the globe — have erected anti-looting barricades to protect their properties, a transformation chronicled on social media by a public that seems as resigned to the precaution as it is astonished.
“London’s Soho not only shut down but being boarded up,” an art director tweeted from England last week, including photos of four restaurants covered in plywood. Along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and in New York’s SoHo, the stores that have installed protective facing include Dior, Fendi and Celine.
Tweets from Seattle show that artists have turned boarded-up storefronts into canvases.
“Stand Six feet back and promise you love me,” read the words on the sheet of wood covering the entrance to an espresso bar, accompanied by the image of a woman extending her hands to keep someone away.
On the wooden planks covering the exterior of a Seattle pizzeria, someone has affixed stickers that read: “Fear Causes Racism!!”
Christopher Leinberger, a George Washington University professor of urban real estate, said the measures add “to the scariness” of the economic turbulence and are “the starkest physical manifestation of the recession.”
“The closing of stores also decreases the walkable urban vitality of our revived places like Georgetown and 14th Street,” Leinberger said. “There is a ‘halo’ around these places that strongly impacts quality of life and home values of houses within walking distance.”
A spokesperson for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) referred questions about the boarded-up stores to the business owners.
Sephora, an international chain selling high-end beauty products, has installed planks of wood over its stores on Capitol Hill and along 14th Street NW, a historically black commercial core that was gutted by riots in 1968 and has been transformed by gentrification over the past decade. The company, in a statement, said it has closed all stores in the United States and Canada until April.
“In accordance with our protocols for temporary store closures, we have standardized precautions to protect our properties across North America,” the statement read. “Our goal is to ensure a great experience for our clients when we have the opportunity to reopen our stores.”
The precautions have caught the attention of community leaders, who worry that the newly forbidding exteriors will create the impression that their neighborhoods are plagued with crime.
“People are already depressed by the conditions, and this is another negative message when what we need is positive messaging,” said Terry Lynch, executive director for the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. “This is not the time to heighten tensions and present an us-against-them mentality.”
On 14th Street, both J. Crew and the Outrage, an independent shop, have been burglarized recently, said John Fanning, chair of the neighborhood advisory commission. The Outrage recently papered over its storefront, though a note on the front door says that it expects to reopen April 1. The store owners did not respond to an email requesting comment.
In Anacostia, a Busboys and Poets restaurant was recently burglarized by an intruder who broke a front window. But Andy Shallal, Busboys’ owner, said he has no plans to install barricades at any of his five restaurants in the District “unless there’s an official epidemic of break-ins.”
“I would not feel comfortable doing that,” Shallal said. “I’d feel like I’m adding insult to injury, like I’m bracing for war. And I don’t want to live like that.”
Instead, he said, he plans to turn his restaurants’ windows into canvases for artists to paint inspirational sayings of their choosing.