The High Cost of Locking Down D.C. for Election Week

All that plywood does not come cheap, according to the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District.

By Kriston Capps

The District of Columbia prepared for the worst on Election Day. Fearing unrest, many downtown businesses shut their doors on Nov. 3, some with plans to stay closed through the end of the week. In a scene familiar from protests over the summer, property owners boarded up windows at shops, hotels and restaurants. A memo from leaders at downtown George Washington University told faculty and staff to prepare for Election Day “as you would for a hurricane or a snowstorm.”

In many other major U.S. cities, downtown retail districts also hunkered down behind plywood, a practice that has become increasingly routine in a difficult year. But it’s a costly exercise. Plywood prices are up and supply is low; add in the cost of labor — especially labor that is very suddenly in demand — and boarding up the windows of a modest storefront business could cost as much as $1,500, according to the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District. And the expenses only go up from there.

Property owners with larger storefront operations spent between $7,000 and $10,000 to board up their windows, according to Gerren Price, director of storefront operations for the Downtown D.C. BID. The costs depend on a lot of factors, namely whether building owners decided to do it themselves or hire contractors. Some owners have been able to reuse the plywood that they put up in June when protesters clashed with police during Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

“Of course, the cost to replace the glass can be much more expensive,” Price says — which is why one prominent downtown hotel with multiple first-floor windows and complicated entrances paid $15,000 to batten down the hatches.

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