Boarded Up: Downtown Storefronts Fear Looting, Vandalism Amid Covid-19 Closures

Apr 15, 2020

With non-essential businesses forced to close for the stay at home order, downtown Asheville’s streetscape is significantly quieter than usual.  As a result, some restaurant and shop owners are taking extra precautions to deter looting and vandalism. 

On a sunny spring afternoon, the sidewalks along Lexington Avenue are empty. This time of year, tourists are typically seen flocking to restaurant patios and ducking in and out of boutiques. But businesses are closed. And many, like Cornerstone Minerals, a gem store, are boarded up. 

“When I was there on Saturday, I spent six or seven hours out front boarding up my shop. In that time span, I saw one police officer," owner Gregory Lee Turner said. He decided to board up his shop, after one of the windows was smashed, last Fri. 

“Literally, one police officer," Turner said. "In the heart of downtown, three blocks from the police department. To me, it’s crazy.”

Turner says he feels like downtown business owners are on their own when it comes to preventing looting and vandalism.

"It’s a strange time, it’s a really uncertain time, and there are a lot of local businesses that have closed their doors," Asheville Police Department spokesperson Christina Hallingse said.  She says APD officers have been vigilant doing extra checks on businesses, patrolling by car and on foot. 

"We're still seeing steady numbers of violent crimes when you're comparing it to the same frame last last year, but our property crimes numbers as of now have decreased," Hallingse said. 

Crime statistics from the last four weeks don’t show any increases in burglaries or robberies, compared to this time last year. Hallingse says, the APD is continuing to work with a crime analyst to daily monitor the situation in Asheville’s now-empty downtown. 

Still, there are those who live and work downtown that say the police presence doesn’t feel increased. Like Gillie Roberts, owner of WARE, on College St.

"I have not seen evidence of that personally. Not in any way that feels protective of empty storefronts when all of these businesses are closed, anyway," Roberts said.  

She says she’s even feared for her own safety. 

"I had one evening where I stayed in my store pretty late, and when I came out I was alone on the street. It felt like I was alone, except for a couple people in the distance. That made me a little nervous," Roberts said.  

Since then, Roberts says she hasn’t stayed in her store past daylight hours. Like Turner, she’s taken protecting her business into her own hands. Her shop windows are boarded up. She also added a bolt lock and more security cameras.