GREENSBORO, N.C. — With the polls opening Tuesday morning in what many experts have called one of the most contentious elections in recent history, some business owners in downtown Greensboro are already concerned.
The scene on a drive through Elm Street appeared to look normal and very much like a regular business day, Monday.
However, with recent turmoil and economic pressure from the ongoing pandemic, the business owners are considering steps to take in anticipation of what could happen after the election results come in and a winner is declared.
"I'm concerned but I'm sure everyone is because this is an important election but as I said it's going to take some time to get the results," Carrie Mangum, a manager at Heavenly Buffaloes said.
At least one business owner plans to close shop Tuesday to allow all staff members a paid-day off to go and vote.
"I just think now more than ever it's important to be involved and I think my staff needs to have the opportunity to do that," Alex Amoroso, of Cheesecakes By Alex said.
He said while he doesn't plan to board up his windows just yet, he and his fellow staff and business neighbors have discussed this election season extensively.
"We've talked about it for a year now within ourselves about Election Day and what's going to happen because everybody is so divided," Amoroso said.
Advocates for the downtown business community said the business owners have cause for concern after what happened a few months.
According to police records, vandals targeted around 70 businesses after the George Floyd Protests in late May and early June.
That's why business owners are on alert and want to take precautions.
"We are taking phone calls, we're responding to emails about concern but ultimately the property owner and the business owner will determine what they feel they should do," Zack Matheny with Downtown Greensboro Inc. said.
He said he doesn't expect any boarding up of downtown windows to happen until Election Day or a few days after if spontaneous protests begin to sprout in other major cities. He said he's advised business owners to 'do what's best for their business.'
"By and large, folks just want to protect their businesses and their property which we saw disrupted in May," Matheny said.
"From a property owner, business owner perspective, we'll have some that will board up and some that won't and some that would hire off-duty security," he said.
Local law enforcement leaders said they've made appropriate plans to handle all scenarios. This includes adding or reallocating staffing as needed.
"Extra patrols in the area, not necessarily at polling sites, basically just reassure the voters that we want them to exercise their right to vote," Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough said.
"The Winston-Salem Police Department will be sufficiently staffed to handle 911 calls, calls for service and any other issues that should arise," said Lieutenant John D. Morris, the Public Information Officer for Winston-Salem Police Dept.
The Guilford County Sheriff's Office is ordering staff to wear their full uniform.
"Hopefully will be able to keep things under control, but the people need to do that. If they keep things under control then our job will be easy, but if they don't keep it under control, our job may still be easy but we'll just put you in jail," Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers said.
"We'll do what we need to get done here at the sheriff's office to make sure we maintain order," Rogers said.
Several agencies like the Greensboro Police Department will also be available to assist with traffic control where requested by election officials or where there is a specific need for traffic direction or to alleviate congestion.
"We have been planning appropriately to handle any increase in call load and protests should they occur. Currently, we don't have any pre-determined number of officers that will automatically be deployed on Election Day. Rather than automatically deploying officers we have made contingency plans if it appears that voting will be compromised," Ron Glenn with the Greensboro Police Department said.
"At this time we have not detected any planned events that are designed to deter or interfere with citizens' right to vote. We are very aware of the concerns that have been reported nationally and have made extra efforts to communicate and plan with agency partners as well as the local board of election. Given the national dialogue that has taken place about voter security, our agency has done a considerable amount of research, with the hope that all citizens of Greensboro can vote peacefully," Glenn said.
"We will have additional staff performing their normal duties, supplementing our regularly scheduled staff. Our staff will go to polling locations only if called by the Board of Election officials. As always public safety is paramount, plans have been made to ensure safety. Those plans do not include close roving patrols at polling locations, but quick responses in the event of emergencies," Brian Long of the Burlington Police Department said.
A spokesperson for Rockingham County Sheriff's Office said deputies will not be at the voting sites Tuesday unless they are exercising their individual right to cast their vote or there is a specific call for law enforcement assistance at a voting location.
While giving their reassurances to protect citizens' rights to freely exercise their right to vote, law enforcement leaders urged for cool heads to prevail throughout the election exercise and afterward and also offered messages of unity and community.
"No matter what we vote under, at the end of the day we must come together and do what we can and unite as one, whether you are Republican or Democrat because at the end of the day we are in this together," Sheriff Kimbrough said.
"It's not about the candidates. I mean yes, we vote for them, but at the end of the day, it's about making sure that we can take care of our home front," Sheriff Rogers said.