Update: Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada announced Thursday morning, June 4, that the city's curfew has been lifted after he and Police Chief Robert Jonsen determined that the conditions that had warranted the order no longer apply. Read more here.
With the Midpeninsula already stirred up in recent days over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, some local shops took precautions Tuesday as warnings spread that organized looting rings could strike their businesses.
Around 6 p.m., racing to beat a newly instituted Palo Alto curfew of 8:30 p.m., two groups of contracted workers were sawing beams of wood as they boarded up a GAP clothing store and Burberry, the luxury, ready-to-wear fashion brand in Stanford Shopping Center.
By then, the entrances of Victoria's Secret, Macy's, Apple, Banana Republic and Neiman Marcus, among others, were already bolstered with thick slabs of wood. Bloomingdale's, North Face, Tommy Bahama and Free People were among the upscale mall's risk takers that chose not to barricade their doors Tuesday night.
Keeping watch over the shopping center, mall security were joined by a Palo Alto police. In recent days, Palo Alto police have been particularly concerned that looters might target the outdoor mall and have sent officers there as a preventative measure when crowds of demonstrators headed in that direction, according to dispatch reports.
Many property owners and landlords had sent warnings to store managers across the Midpeninsula about a heightened chance of commercial burglaries in the coming days. It's one unintended side effect of the meaningful protests against police brutality and systemic racism that emerged across the nation this past week: a sideshow of opportunistic groups of people using the moment to loot lingerie or department stores.
"It's a tragedy that businesses are being broken into," said Rebecca Bara, a 30-year Palo Alto resident and owner of Baptiste Power Yoga studio in Edgewood Plaza on Embarcadero Road.
There's not much to take from a yoga studio besides some yoga mats and weights. But Bara, who said she has been struggling like many small business owners to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic, wanted to be cautious and take the studio's computer and other few valuable items home before Palo Alto's 10-day curfew began — a decision made by the city Tuesday afternoon "based on monitoring of potential criminal activity in the region," according to City Manager Ed Shikada.
San Mateo County instituted a similarly timed curfew on Tuesday, but only planned to impose it for two days. The county decision sent employees of home improvement and other stores scrambling to close up shop earlier than usual.
In Mountain View, an employee of the Safeway on San Antonio Road stood by the sliding doors to turn customers away, vaguely telling them that the grocery store was closing early, "due to the circumstances."
But adding a new shade of brown to the store's facade would mostly be a decision based on a store or branch manager's discretion. At a Chase Bank in San Antonio Center, a wall of wood blocked all but the bank's ATM, while the branch in Palo Alto's Edgewood Plaza left its glass windows bare.
Similarly, a Target in East Palo Alto boarded its front doors earlier this week, along with the Nordstrom Rack next door and PGA Tour Superstore nearby. (Target had recently closed its stores before reopening its Peninsula locations about a day later.) But on Showers Drive in Mountain View, the retail giant had only blocked its entrance with pallets of water bottles stacked behind its sliding doors.
One employee at a Trader Joe's nearby said she had no idea what the plan was, but the market hadn't boarded up for the previous night. Cheenie Durham, store manager of Books Inc. in Palo Alto said she was thinking about it, but, along with every store in Town & Country Village, hadn't barricaded its front doors.
In Menlo Park, a few stores decided to take extra precautions: Cafe Borrone and Kepler's Books blocked their all-glass storefronts, as did one other downtown business.
Most if not all restaurants and stores on Mountain View's Castro Street had not added wooden barriers. Though not all stores in the region had boarded up for the evening, every city had at least one police squad car or security guard patrolling the area or watching over a retail plaza.
By Wednesday morning, there were no reports of looting. A few suspicious individuals were seen walking San Mateo County streets with crowbars, and there were other miscellaneous reports of potential criminal activity, according to the San Mateo County law enforcement scanner.
More protests planned
Protests against police brutality continue along the Midpeninsula. A rally in East Palo Alto began at noon Wednesday, June 3. Another demonstration is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Wednesday in front of San Mateo City Hall (330 W. 20th Ave.) and end at the San Mateo Police Department headquarters at 200 Franklin Parkway.
Los Altos and Mountain View students are organizing a demonstration on Thursday at 5 p.m., meeting at Wells Fargo Bank, on the corner of San Antonio Road and El Camino Real in Mountain View.
Mountain View Voices for Peace and Justice, the same group that held protests in Mountain View last Friday and on Sunday, is planning a second one on Friday, June 5, at Castro Street and El Camino Real 6 p.m. Organizers said in an email that it will be "non-confrontational and non-destructive," and encouraged participants to spread out and observe social distancing.
A rally will also be held at noon on Saturday at King Plaza in front of Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave. Speakers will include former judge LaDoris Cordell, former Stanford University dean Julie Lythcott-Haims, East Palo Alto Mayor Regina Wallace Jones and others.