Last week, for the first time in months, Dave Hautman took the plywood off his windows and rolled down new metal shutters to protect the Franklin-Nicollet Liquor Store from potential looters.
Though the retractable shutters cost more than $40,000, Hautman figures they will more than pay for themselves. His store was hit by looters twice last year, racking up losses of more than $250,000.
"If we didn't have this kind of security, we'd just pack up and leave," said Hautman, general manager of the liquor store. "You can't afford to keep going down this road. It has just become lawless."
From small retailers to corporate giants such as Target and Ameriprise, property owners are rushing to take advantage of a new ordinance in Minneapolis that allows them to use retractable metal shutters and roll-up gates to protect their assets. Even the city of Minneapolis has joined the movement: The Police Department was one of the first to add retractable shutters to its downtown First Precinct. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis also began installing shutters on its front lobby windows last week.
The Minneapolis City Council unanimously agreed to overturn its ban on external security equipment in December, four months after a Star Tribune report found widespread interest in the devices in the wake of last year's riots.
Though St. Paul has long allowed the use of external shutters as long as owners request a permit, Minneapolis limited security shutters to the inside of a property, leaving windows and doors vulnerable to attack. In a report justifying the ban, Minneapolis officials argued that external shutters "cause visual blight" and create the impression that an area is "unsafe" and "troublesome."
But in the wake of the riots, property owners complained that they can no longer count on the city to protect their property. Altogether, more than 1,500 businesses in the Twin Cities were damaged during the civil unrest that followed the death of George Floyd, causing an estimated $500 million in losses. Financially, it is the second costliest case of civil unrest in modern American history.
Under the new rules, security shutters and gates must remain open during business hours and can't include any signs, such as advertisements. The council approved the change in December with no discussion.
Some property owners moved quickly to add shutters because they fear a replay of unrest could be in the works. A trial is underway for the first of four former police officers charged in Floyd's death.
"We understand that many people will be downtown exercising their First Amendment rights, something we strongly encourage as long as it is done lawfully and peacefully," Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said. "We also know that some people may not stay within those parameters so we have taken steps to protect property and personnel."
Elder said work on the First Precinct's shutters was completed last week. One precinct was destroyed and another heavily damaged during last year's rioting, which showed that "our precincts are targets for vandalism and even destruction," Elder said.
In Ameriprise's application to put roll-down security gates at the skyway entrances to its downtown headquarters, the financial giant said the gates "will only be closed during civil unrest/riot situation."
A company spokeswoman declined an interview request. "We regularly review security measures to ensure the ongoing safety of our employees and visitors," Ameriprise spokeswoman Kathleen McClung said in an e-mail.
Target added security gates to the skyway entrances of its corporate headquarters building on Nicollet Mall and roll-down shutters to its store at 2500 E. Lake St., which was destroyed in the riots and reopened after a multimillion-dollar reconstruction in November. Target officials also declined an interview request.
It's not clear how many property owners have added shutters. Though Minneapolis requires a permit, some owners have gone forward without first getting city approval. A spokeswoman for the city said staff members have not conducted field inspections to check for compliance.
John Wolf, owner of Chicago-Lake Liquors, spearheaded the drive to repeal the shutter ban after looters crashed through his floor-to-ceiling windows and stole more than $1 million worth of booze last May. But Wolf, who reopened his store in November, moved too quickly to take full advantage of the new ordinance. Though he spent about $15,000 on new gates for his front doors, Wolf did not order shutters for his windows. Instead, he went with bullet-resistant window coverings.
"I couldn't wait," Wolf said. "By the time the ordinance passed, I had already ordered all of this other stuff, and I didn't want to spend another $30,000 on top of it."
A few blocks away, Quality Coaches owner Mark Brandow showed a reporter how easy it is to deploy the shutters at his car-repair shop on W. 38th Street. With a remote-control device, Brandow can armor his windows in 15 seconds. The system cost $25,000.
"I can put the shutters down at a moment's notice, so if they're coming down the street with hammers, they'll be out of luck here," Brandow said. "It is pretty much impenetrable, unless somebody came at me with a battering ram."
Too expensive for many
The equipment is too pricey for many small-business owners. Jennifer Schoenzeit, co-owner of Zipps Liquors on E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, said she purchased three industrial-strength metal doors for her business for $6,000 when she discovered it would cost $25,000 to install retractable shutters. The store was hit hard by looters last year, with losses totaling about $250,000.
"We had to replace our glass doors six times in the last year — I am not replacing them again," said Schoenzeit, noting each door panel cost $1,000 to replace.
Hautman said his contractor had just finished installing the windows broken in last May's riots when looters busted into his store again in August. He said he left the plywood up until the shutter company showed up earlier this month.
"It's depressing to see that," Hautman said. "It was like working inside a box."
Until 2020, Hautman said, such damage was rare at the store, which opened in 1965.
"We could go two to three years without a window replacement," he said.
Security companies said sales skyrocketed last year because of widespread rioting over Floyd's death, causing long waits for some customers. But officials at QMI, an Illinois company that bills itself as the largest provider of security shutters in the U.S., said it can now deliver orders within 10 days, vs. five weeks last year.
"In the past, most of our shutters have gone on the inside of a building," said Brett Sailors, QMI's vice president of sales. "But we have started to receive more requests for outside installations because people don't want their glass broken. It's helped introduce our product to a lot of smaller retailers — liquor stores, pawnshops and places like that."
Jeffrey Meitrodt • 612-673-4132