A crew of workers gathered in front of The Prudential Center on Boylston Street Friday morning, covering the skyscraper’s expansive ground-level windows with plywood.
Later that afternoon, workers boarded up a construction rig outside of 581 Boylston St., a building above the New Balance store. A crew member said they were told to cover the rig with plywood to prevent anyone from climbing it if there are any demonstrations over the coming week’s election.
And over on Newbury Street, a crew from Walpole-based Countrywide Glass & Door Inc. was affixing wood panels along the facade of a LensCrafters store. A manager at the store said the safety measure was a temporary precaution ahead of election night.
In Boston and around the country, businesses and property owners are trying to prepare for what could be an uncertain week for the United States. Although few said they believe that civil unrest after the Tuesday election is likely, many are reinforcing windows, securing valuable inventory, and hiring extra security just in case.
Charles Talanian, who owns several properties along Newbury Street, said he has an obligation to his business and his investors to be prepared in the wake of vandalism and theft that followed protests earlier this year. So he has brought in private security and will be boarding up windows of vacant stores.
“After May 31, I’m not going to take any chances,” Talanian said. “Because May 31 was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration. There was a peaceful demonstration. But after the demonstration, there was nothing peaceful about it.”
After the conclusion of protests that night over the death of George Floyd and other Black people killed by police in America, a chaotic scene developed in Downtown Crossing and the Back Bay, where some businesses were ransacked, others vandalized.
Similar scenes played out in several other cities. And now, with a contentious election looming and the nation on edge, images posted on social media show stores in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco getting boarded up.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said last week that the city is finalizing its safety plans for election night, and that he expects protests regardless of the outcome.
“There’ll probably be demonstrations on both sides, on victories and losses. What’s kind of alarming to me is that the preparation that we’re putting into this election, we’ve never had to put into an election before,” Walsh said at a news conference Thursday.
Tuesday’s election will happen under unprecedented circumstances. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many states have been deluged with mail-in ballots that may take extra time to count, which means a definitive result may take longer than normal. Meanwhile, President Trump has sought to cast doubt on the validity of mail-in voting, and he has equivocated about whether he would concede defeat if he loses.
Most stores say they’re simply being careful, given the unusual situation. Plywood, after all, costs less than a new window or a major replacement of inventory.
“People are being cautious, because of the fact that it’s not clear exactly the outcome and how people are going to feel about it and how they will express that,” said Meg Mainzer-Cohen, president of the Back Bay Association. “We will not see another May 31 again, we do not believe.”
Lou Falzarano owns Boston Board Up, a company that specializes in boarding up buildings to protect them from vandalism and other property damage. Business has been brisk lately, he said, though not as busy as when protests took place in Boston and cities across the country earlier this year.
“We’re definitely fielding a lot of calls," Falzarano said in a telephone interview Friday. “People are asking if we’ll be available, if need be. But it’s not like it was when they were having the protests. We were extremely busy back then.”
Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said there has been little discussion of the potential property damage or violence among store owners across the state. “I see no indication that there should be any alarm whatsoever,” Hurst said.
He said some of the precautions that retailers may be taking are fairly standard, such as moving valuable goods off of the floor when a store is closed.
“Let’s face it, smash-and-grabs do occur in big cities, and they don’t happen just because of protests,” he said. “In a big city today, you’ve got to be prepared — period — for crime.”
Mainzer-Cohen noted that the Back Bay has long been a place for people to gather in protest. Events like those that happened this spring are rare. Even if there were to be large protests on election night, that does not imply that there would be violence or destruction, Mainzer-Cohen said.
The incidents earlier this year, she said, were “a double-pronged event of two different things.”
The people who damaged property and stole goods in the Back Bay were “bad operators” who “looked at the calendar and looked at where marches are going to be, and said, ‘That’s a good way to do it when everybody’s focusing on the march’ ” she said.
“The global pandemic has supersized everybody’s concern, worry, fear,” she added. “It’s all part of a situation that has everybody just in a more cautious [mood].”
Andy Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen. Emily Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney. Anissa Gardizy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8.