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Plywood runs low as retailers board up storefronts ahead of Election Day

Cities brace for possible Election Day unrest
Cities across U.S. brace for Election Day violence and unrest 02:01

Plywood could be hard to come by as retailers across the country board up storefronts in anticipation of civil unrest on Election Day or in its wake. 

Security experts have warned of expected chaos, no matter the outcome of the election, particularly in battleground states and in the downtown areas of cities where protests over police brutality took place this summer. 

"We do expect there to be some level of unrest before, during and after the election regardless of who might be the winner," said Allison Wood, head of political risk consulting in North America at the business consultancy Control Risks.

High-end and discount retailers alike are heeding these warnings in an effort to protect their real estate, merchandise and personnel. 

Luxury department store chain Saks Fifth Avenue is among the pricey retailers that have taken precautionary measures, including boarding up windows of some of its 45 U.S. stores, citing the possibility of election-related civil disorder.

"An abundance of caution"

"Out of an abundance of caution, like many businesses, we are implementing additional security measures at certain locations in the event of civil unrest due to the current election," a Saks Fifth Avenue spokesperson said in a statement. "This could include boarding or additional security personnel. As always, the safety of our customers, associates and communities, as well as the protection of our physical assets, is of utmost importance."

A spokesperson for Tiffany & Co. said that precautions being taken by the famed jeweler also vary by city, and will include boarding up windows.

"While we intend to remain open where possible, out of an abundance of caution the windows of select stores in key cities will be boarded in anticipation of potential election-related activity," a Tiffany's spokesperson said.

Questions about mail-in ballots, postmarks and vote counting 11:32

Such actions are wise, according to experts. 

"Some on the more high-end of the retail spectrum, luxury goods, electronics types of things that might be targeted in looting — those are the types of businesses that are getting out in front of these types of issues," Wood of Control Risks said. 

Other kinds of retailers, including CVS Health, are also taking precautions against post-election protests.

A CVS Health spokesperson said that actions will vary by region, and include, in some cases, boarding up store windows. "Any store with boarded windows will continue to be open to serve customers as long as it is safe to do so," a company spokesperson said. 

Discount retailers such as Target are also taking steps in case of civil unrest, according to media reports.

Scrambling for plywood

Given the sudden need for enhanced security, some suppliers of plywood this weekend reported running low on large sheets of the material.

A sales-floor employee in the lumber section of Home Depot near Madison Square Park in Manhattan said the store had recently sold out of larger sheets of plywood. (A Home Depot spokesperson said the company does not break out sales trends or numbers for specific categories.) 

Meanwhile, construction and security companies tasked with securing storefronts say they've had to scramble to secure the right quantities of material. 

Workers on Saturday began boarding up the glass windows of a Bed, Bath and Beyond store in the Tribeca neighborhood in lower Manhattan.  Megan Cerullo / CBS News

Stephen Kellenbach, who works for Advanced Facilities Solutions, a New Jersey-based management and construction company, said one of its large retail clients enlisted the company to board up 40 store locations in and around Philadelphia. He had to visit four different Home Depot locations in order to fulfill the customer's order, he said. 

New clients, outside the company's usual customer base, have also inquired about protections ahead of the election. "These aren't things we normally do but it's absolutely a service we are now offering," Kellenbach said.

There's always steel

Some stores are going well beyond plywood to secure their businesses. 

Marian Bobolea owner of Starr Industries, a scaffolding company that barricaded the Apple Cube on a Fifth Avenue plaza to protect it against looting during riots over the death of George Floyd in June, said he has discussed election-related contracts with 10 to 15 different retailers in New York City.

Starr builds barriers similar to scaffolding using steel and other materials. "We don't use plywood because it's easier to pop out — we use steel, that way it's solid and you can't break through it," he said. 

Unrest in Philadelphia after police fatally shoot Black man 02:40

Some of Starr's systems cost clients upward of $100,000, particularly if a store is located on an open plaza, for example. 

According to retail and security experts, they're not overreacting.

"Any retailer large, medium, small, regardless of the kinds of things they sell from luxury down to grocery, has to be extraordinarily concerned about what may or may not happen Tuesday and in the days that follow the election," said Mark Cohen, a former CEO and retail studies professor at Columbia University.

Premium Russian birch plywood

Ed Garman, the general manager of York County Lumber Corp. in York County, Pennsylvania, noted that the company's plywood sales have risen lately. 

Since the coronavirus, he's also had to pay brokers more for what he sells. Large sheets that used to cost around $16 dollars are now around $30 a piece. "The prices are really up there — they're almost double what they were," Garman said. 

Some scrambling for materials have turned to higher grade alternatives when plywood has been sold out.

Matt Mullen, sales manager for North American Plywood in New Jersey, said he's fielded requests from customers looking to board up storefronts, including a client in Philadelphia who reserved 500 32-square-foot sheets of premium construction-grade Russian birch plywood that retails for $45 a sheet. 

"We have had a lot of calls from outside our normal customer base. And our product is more expensive, so there has to be a shortage before somebody would turn to our product," Mullen said. 

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