By Heather Haddon and Jaewon Kang 

Macy's Inc. delayed the reopening of some stores shut by the coronavirus pandemic. Chains from Kroger Co. to Popeyes have cut back their hours. And the CEOs of Starbucks Corp. and McDonald's Corp. organized companywide forums to discuss the social unrest that has disrupted efforts to restart business as pandemic lockdowns ease.

After widespread protests over the death of George Floyd while in police custody, CEOs were looking for ways to balance their efforts to run their companies, protect their employees and property, and articulate a response to their customers, staff and communities about racism and deep-seated problems in American society. For many, it followed months of struggles to restart their businesses after the crippling global pandemic.

"Right when we get over one hump, here comes something new to deal with, " said Reynolds Cramer, chief executive of Fareway Foods Inc., a Midwest grocery chain in six states. In addition to adjusting hours to close early, Fareway told its store managers to close doors or not open right away in the morning if it is unsafe to do so.

"It is scary. It's frustrating. It's such a terrible thing," Mr. Cramer said. "You feel terrible for these people who have done nothing wrong and their businesses are being destroyed."

Macy's postponed the reopening of four stores that were slated to open their doors Monday until later in the week due to the violence. Over the weekend, 30 stores either closed entirely or closed early, including those in Atlanta and Minneapolis. Early closures took place in cities with curfews to give employees time to get home. In cities where stores hadn't reopened yet such as Chicago, rioters broke windows and looted merchandise, according to a spokeswoman.

In a letter to employees, Macy's CEO Jeff Gennette urged staffers to look out for one another. "Check on your teams and fellow colleagues -- both furloughed and nonfurloughed," he wrote. "Be each other's ally and seek help when you need it."

Some Burger King and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen locations were damaged during the weekend's protests, and restaurants have closed early in some areas to protect workers and customers, said Jose Cil, chief executive of parent company Restaurants Brands International Inc.

"There is no place for racism in America, and every company, every public institution and every individual needs to take accountability for calling it out by name and stopping it," Mr. Cil said.

McDonald's plans to hold a company town hall meeting Tuesday to allow U.S. employees to tell executives what the burger giant can do to foster more racial inclusion and corporate outreach.

"As a company, we have a responsibility to recognize the pain felt by so many and to fight racism and discrimination in our communities," McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski said in a message to the company Sunday evening.

Starbucks held a forum over the weekend for employees to talk about the death of George Floyd and racially motivated violence, and 2,000 employees participated, CEO Kevin Johnson said in a company letter. Mr. Johnson said the company will continue to hold forums for workers to share their responses.

The uncertainty is adding to challenges that food retailers have managed since the coronavirus started spreading in the U.S. Supermarkets have adjusted hours and operations to respond to the pandemic, implementing capacity limits and new safety measures.

"We're trying hard to close the stores that would be impacted well in advance," said Kevin Holt, chief executive of Ahold Delhaize USA, which operates more than 2,000 grocery stores across the country under the Stop & Shop, Giant and Food Lion chains. "We continue to be heartbroken over this."

While a small number of Ahold's stores have been affected, the protests and the sentiment of outrage are growing, Mr. Holt said. Over the weekend, the grocer closed a handful of its locations early to comply with local curfews. The chain is also reaching out to its employees through robocalls and other methods to check in.

"In terms of the pandemic, this could also cause a lot more infection," Mr. Holt said. "We just don't know what tomorrow will bring. We will have to deal with that as we go through it."

Daniel Halpern, chief executive of the Jackmont Hospitality Inc. restaurant group, said he closed two TGI Fridays locations in Atlanta and Baltimore over the weekend to conform with local curfews. Coronavirus has hurt sales at the group's airport restaurants -- nearly all of them remaining closed -- and at its 30 TGI Fridays.

"If you look at where the country is today, we as business leaders have failed. I'm pointing fingers at myself and all leaders. We have to do a better job" to push for economic and racial equality, said Mr. Halpern, a Democratic National Committee board member.

Mr. Halpern, who is Native American, said he doesn't support violence, but that he sympathizes with the need for protesters to demonstrate. "Minority-owned businesses are being damaged. Minority businesses hire people from their communities. But capitalism only works if everyone has a shot," he said.

The restaurant industry needs to do more to encourage diversity, including at the top, he said. "We can't fix these institutional issues with Band-Aids. When I go to restaurant conferences, there are very few black and brown franchisees, and fewer black and brown CEOs," he said. "It's not a question if there's qualified people out there. They aren't in the club."

Jide Zeitlin, the CEO of Tapestry Inc., wrote a letter to his staff to share his personal experience as one of the few black men to run a major U.S. company. He also reported that Coach and Kate Spade stores had been damaged in cities across the country from Charleston, S.C., and Washington, D.C., to Scottsdale, Ariz., and Bellevue, Wash.

"Has our society truly left them with little to lose and few other ways to force the rest of us to come to the negotiating table?" he wrote. "We can replace our windows and handbags, but we cannot bring back George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, and too many others."

--Suzanne Kapner contributed to this article.

Write to Heather Haddon at and Jaewon Kang at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 01, 2020 16:32 ET (20:32 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.