CHICAGO – Activists who blocked the entrances to stores on Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue on Black Friday to protest the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white cop may have split opinions with their tactics.
But their goal of forcing retailers to suffer economic pain on what’s historically the busiest shopping day of the year was a success, according to unhappy store staff and managers who said Monday that Black Friday sales on the Magnificent Mile were 25 percent to 50 percent below projections.
Images of protesters marching down North Michigan urging a holiday shopping boycott dramatically reduced foot traffic while protesters who physically blocked shoppers from entering stores also hurt sales in a big way, according to the retailers, some of whom were critical of the low-key police response.
“We were down a lot,” said Sarah Midoun, a sales associate at Aldo shoe store. “We were budgeted to make $37,000 but we only did $19,000 – customers told us they were concerned.
“If anything the police were kind of encouraging (protesters who blocked the entrance to the store) by allowing it,” she said. However, she added that if police had been too heavy-handed, “people might have rioted.”
Aldo’s near 50 percent shortfall of its target mirrored results at other stores. At Men’s Wearhouse, Black Friday sales were down from $19,000 last year to less than $10,000 this year, according to store manager Jimmy Llorente, who said some shoppers asked to hide from protesters inside his store’s foyer. And at the Stuart Weitzman shoe store, sales were some $20,000 short of the $50,000 managers had projected, according to associate Marisol Tapia.
Managers and staff at a dozen other North Michigan Avenue stores declined to speak on the record with the Tribune, citing company policies that forbid them to speak with the media, and referring questions to corporate officials who declined to comment. But workers at each of those stores confided that their Black Friday losses were in line with those described elsewhere.
Only at two small luxury stores whose managers said they cater mostly to Chinese and South American tourists did staff say that sales were in line with expectations. Stores with multiple entrances on different streets reported the least impact, saying they diverted customers through side doors.
Determining the precise effect of the protests remained difficult. Nationwide, Black Friday in-store sales were down 10 percent from $11.6 billion to $10.4 billion as shoppers increasingly opted to shop online, according to research firm ShopperTrak. Miserable winter weather likely contributed to that trend in Chicago.
Further complicating the picture were the accounts of customers who told store staff on Saturday and Sunday that they’d simply delayed their shopping trips by a day or two to avoid the protest.
But even allowing for those factors, the effect of the protest on the city’s premier shopping street was dramatic.
GPS gadget maker Garmin’s flagship store was one of several that shut five hours early because of the protest. It saw its sales down 30 to 40 percent, general manager Slade Thackeray said. In-store sales are less important to Garmin, which uses the location to let consumers see its products in person.
Police did prevent activists from hanging a sign in front of the Garmin store about teenager Laquan McDonald’s death and the yearlong delay in bringing charges against the police officer, and “I felt like they did what they could – they were just going with the flow,” Thackeray said, “but it was disappointing that not all the people who wanted to get into the store could get in.”
Of the protest, he added, “I don’t feel like it was very legitimate. We should be helping the economy, not hurting it.”
Thackeray said he hadn’t registered a complaint with the city about police handling of the protest, and that he did not intend to.
Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi did not immediately respond Monday to questions about police tactics on Black Friday, or say whether any other North Michigan Avenue stores had registered complaints.
The protests Friday were largely peaceful, with police making just a handful of misdemeanor arrests. While some shoppers showed sympathy for the protesters’ cause, others managed to muscle their way past protest lines and into stores. Many said they didn’t understand what McDonald’s death had to do with them or their desire to shop for holiday bargains.
Not all retailers objected to the protests. Speaking Monday, Whitney Kelly, who works at the Dana Reed Designs jewelry kiosk in an area shopping mall, said sales on Black Friday were well below the $1,500 she’d expected to make on even a regular Friday.
But she added, “I support what the protesters did. What that police officer did wasn’t right.”