Some downtown Austin businesses board up before Election Day

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Monday, several businesses in downtown Austin boarded up before Election Day.

Photos taken by KXAN crews show the United States Postal Service location, a 7-Eleven convenience store and Total Men’s Primary Care in the 823 Congress Avenue building boarded up with plywood.

About a block south along Congress Avenue and 8th Street, wooden boards were also being installed at another office space utilized by Third Rail Creative and Orange 142.

“My employees are scared,” said Jagat Patel, the store operator and franchisee of the 7-Eleven location. “We’ve been warned there might be violence.” 

  • Businesses on the corner of Congress Avenue and East 9th Street boarding up before Election Day (KXAN/Andrew Choat)

Patel said he knows about several downtown businesses that were looted in the aftermath of protests over the summer for the deaths of George Floyd and Mike Ramos. He supports people’s right to protest — that’s why he’s stocking up on water and snacks for any demonstrators that might need them.

“We are here to serve our community, and we want the same community to understand: you may be upset tomorrow, but this is us,” he pleaded. “Please don’t vandalize.” 

It’s been a tough year for businesses like his, struggling during the pandemic. He said he’s worried about having to clean up a mess in the days after the Election.

“I’m a local person. My employees are local people. We have families to go home to, so when you vandalize, you are hurting us,” he said.

Patel said he didn’t receive any specific guidance from local officials on what to prepare for or how to prepare.

Laura Huffman, President and CEO of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said they want businesses to be safe, but they’d leave specific guidance up to local and state officials.

State response

The Texas Military Department activated National Guard troops this summer in response to protests in cities like Austin. According to Major General Tracy R. Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, they were assisting the Texas Department of Public Safety in guarding historical landmarks such as the Alamo and the State Capitol.

“Texas Service Members continue to support DPS in this capacity,” Norris said in a statement.

Last week, Governor Greg Abbott said the state would be prepared to respond to any unrest on or after November 3, but that the Texas National Guard would not have a role in the election process.

“Our job is to make sure cities are going to be safe,” he said. “Those decisions will be made on an as-needed basis.” 

Austin police response

This comes as several Austin City Council members have called on Austin Police Chief Brian Manley to provide a safety plan for potential election demonstrations.

The department did not respond to our questions Monday about its plan for the days ahead. One of the requesting city council members said the department had not told him of a plan, even privately.

APD previously told us it will be on “tactical alert” this week, meaning every officer will be in uniform and have their equipment ready to respond wherever necessary in the event that a protest or a disturbance at a polling place were to become unlawful.

High-ranking officials told us the department would be adequately staffed for the weeks heading into the election and had not increased staffing levels.

In Houston, Police Chief Art Acevedo said they are taking an “all hands on deck” approach, the Houston Chronicle reports, but 12-hour shifts probably won’t be implemented like they were during the George Floyd protests.

Around the nation

As Election Day draws closer, businesses in cities across the nation are taking precautions in case of possible unrest. In Washington D.C., banks and restaurants can be seen with wooden boards for protection from any community response, WDVM reports.

Because of damages received during the summer’s George Floyd protests, some chain businesses are taking extra precaution, like Ulta Beauty. NBC News reports the company is boarding up stores, closing early and hiring overnight security in certain locations.

Last week, Walmart removed guns and ammunition from store displays in certain areas of unrest, only to reverse its decision a few days later.

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