Shahida Jadran said she sympathizes with what Black Lives Matter protesters are trying to accomplish in the wake of a fatal police shooting in north Minneapolis last month, but she’s frustrated the group chose once again to descend on the Mall of America during one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
“We think the protests should be done,” said Jadran, who owns two retail stores and seven kiosks at the Bloomington mall. “But not here, not to the retailers, not to the shoppers. Because none of us did anything.”
Mall officials directed at least 80 stores on the east side of the mall to lock their doors, starting at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, as they prepared for a flood of Black Lives Matter supporters.
The normally bustling hallways of the country’s biggest indoor mall had a different energy, as police officers patrolled with dogs and plainclothes security guards with earphones strolled by shoppers confused by the store closings.
Rachel Smith of Coon Rapids threw up her hands and let out disheartened cry to a friend.
“I’m here to get my sister’s gift, last minute, and this happened,” she said, just as the chants of protesters began echoing down the hall. “We came here to shop, but every store we want to go to is closed.”
Heavily fortified teams of security formed a circle around the stores in the mall’s eastern corner before protesters arrived. As people began filling the rotunda, armed guards with sticks and bullhorns slowly forced everyone in the east wing outside — protesters, shoppers and retail workers alike.
Being shuttered for 90 minutes during the crucial holiday season was a bitter pill for many retailers, who earn the lion’s share of their annual sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Kiosks sat abandoned and covered in tarps. Inside Build-A-Bear, one employee used a bright yellow duster to spruce up displays. At Hat World, an employee swept the front entrance with a push broom. His co-worker said the shutdown could affect their pay, even though she said they don’t work on commission. “It all depends on sales,” she said.
An artist working on a portrait at On the Spot, an open-air studio near the second-level escalators, lamented his backlog of work and the effect the shutdown would have. “I wish we could stay open and work,” he said.
Some shoppers made the best of the situation.
Bassil Battikhi, who was at the mall with his parents and siblings, took the inconvenience in stride. The 11-year-old had his heart set on getting a new hat — Cincinnati Bengals or St. Louis Rams — at Lids, whose doors were locked.
With a shrug and a smile, he said he’d be back. “I don’t know what the protest is for,” he said, “but if it’s for a good cause, I suppose it’s OK.”
About a half-dozen customers decided to hole up inside the Barnes & Noble during the long lockdown, cozying up with a book and a treat at the Starbucks cafe.
Stores reopened about 2:15 p.m., when the mall announced over the loudspeakers that “this emergency situation has been resolved.”
A Black Lives Matter protest last December caused an estimated 24,000 people to avoid the mall, according to the Mall of America’s traffic statistics contained in court documents. This year, in anticipation of the protest, all bus and light-rail service to the mall was shut down.
Jadran said she typically earns half of her holiday sales on the day before Christmas Eve, and on Wednesday was trying to tally the damage as she stood next to one of the three kiosks and storefront she was forced to close.
“Typically, I should make $10,000 today, but so far I haven’t even made $1,000,” she said. “I hope things pick up later today.”