Target, CVS, Walgreens to require customers wear masks at U.S. stores

(Reuters) – Target Corp, CVS Health Corp and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc said on Thursday they would require customers wear face coverings while shopping at their U.S. stores, adopting a widely accepted way to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The move by consumer-facing companies comes as virus cases continue to surge in the United States and deaths exceed 137,000.

On Wednesday, Walmart Inc, Kroger Co and Kohls Corp had decided to implement the policy at all their outlets.

Target said it would launch the policy from August 1, with an exception for those with underlying medical conditions and young children.

Local and state regulations already require shoppers at over 80% of its stores to wear face masks, the retailer said.

Walgreens’ policy will come into effect on Monday, with the company saying it will add store signage and intercom messages to remind shoppers of the new rule.

CVS will also launch the rule at its pharmacies from Monday, but said it was not asking its employees to act as enforcers.

While many companies have recommended masks for months, they were hesitant to make it a requirement over fears of drawing the ire of shoppers, especially after several videos posted online showed confrontations between customers and store staff.

“What we are asking is that customers help protect themselves,” CVS said in a statement.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Arun Koyyur)

Walmart removes firearms, ammunition from floor display as protests rage in U.S

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc said on Wednesday it shifted firearms and ammunition out of sales floors of some U.S. stores amid nationwide protests over the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police last week.

“We have temporarily removed firearms and ammunition from the sales floor in some stores out of an abundance of caution,” the nation’s largest retailer said in a statement.

“Those items are available for purchase, but are being stored in a secure room.”

Walmart, which stopped selling ammunition for handguns and some assault-style rifles in its U.S. stores last year, does not sell firearms in many of the major urban markets experiencing issues due to looting.

Several retailers, from Target, Apple to high-end apparel brands, have been looted and damaged as protesters turned violent in places including New York and Chicago, forcing them to reduce store hours or close shop.

This comes as U.S. retailers were already reeling under falling sales due to the pandemic-led stores closures.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

Retailers already hit by coronavirus board up as U.S. protests rage

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Target Corp and Walmart said on Sunday they shuttered stores across the United States as retailers already reeling from closures because of the coronavirus pandemic shut outlets amid protests that included looting in many U.S. cities.

Protests turned violent in places including New York and Chicago following the death in Minneapolis of a black man, George Floyd, seen on video gasping for breath as a white police officer knelt on his neck.

In Los Angeles, protests led to the looting of the Alexander McQueen clothing store on Rodeo Drive, and a Gucci store on the vaunted strip was marked with the graffiti slogan: “Eat the rich,” according to local media reports.

In the nearby Grove Shopping Center, which houses 51 upscale stores, Nordstrom, Ray Ban and Apple were broken into. Nordstrom Inc temporarily closed all its stores on Sunday, it told Reuters in an emailed statement.

“We hope to reopen our doors as soon as possible,” the statement said. “We had impacts at some of them and are in the process of assessing any damage so we can resume serving customers.”

Apple Inc said in an email statement it also had decided to keep a number of its U.S. stores closed on Sunday. The company did not specify how many stores were closed, or if the closures would be extended.

The violence was widespread, and Minnesota-based Target said it was closing or limiting hours at more than 200 stores. It did not specify how long the closures would last.

The company told Reuters it was beginning to board up its Lake Street store in Minneapolis, near where Floyd was killed, for safety and to begin recovery efforts. The company said in a statement that it would plan to reopen the store late this year.

“There is certainly potential for the resulting social unrest to hurt certain businesses like retailers and restaurants, and for it to further dent consumer and business sentiment,” said Robert Phipps, director at Per Stirling. “It is even possible, particularly if the unrest continues and spreads, that it would, all other things being equal, have a significant impact on investor psychology and the markets.”

Walmart closed some stores in Minneapolis and Atlanta after protests Friday, and closed several hundred stores at 5 p.m. on Sunday, a spokesman said. “We’ll look at them each day, and at how each community is impacted and make decisions then,” the spokesman said.

Online retailer Amazon said it was monitoring the situation closely. “In a handful of cities we’ve adjusted routes or scaled back typical delivery operations to ensure the safety of our teams,” the company said in an emailed statement.

U.S. retail sales have posted record declines as the novel coronavirus pandemic kept Americans at home, putting the economy on track for its biggest contraction in the second quarter since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Additional reporting by Sinead Carew and Ismail Shakil; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Peter Cooney and Diane Craft)

Walmart to hire 50,000 more workers in coronavirus-driven hiring spree

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc said on Friday it would hire 50,000 more workers at its stores, clubs and distribution centers to meet a surge in demand for groceries and household essentials from consumers stockpiling during the coronavirus outbreak.

The retailer said it had reached its earlier target of hiring 150,000 workers six weeks ahead of schedule, taking in 5,000 people per day on average at a time when millions of Americans are losing their jobs amid unprecedented “stay-at-home” orders from state and local governments.

The measures to control the spread of the disease have brought economic activity to a virtual standstill, forcing companies to take drastic steps to save cash.

The S&P 500 index has fallen 15% from its February record high, while Walmart’s stock has surged more than 10% in the same period.

Walmart said it had worked with more than 70 companies that furloughed workers due to the pandemic to hire its 150,000 new employees, many of whom came from the restaurant and hospitality industries.

The company said 85% of the workers being hired are going into temporary or part-time roles.

Skyrocketing demand for food, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and other household products has also prompted retailers Kroger, Target and Amazon.com Inc to hire by the thousands.

Separately, Walmart said it will now require its U.S. staff to wear masks or other face coverings at work, making its face-covering policy mandatory from optional in line with public health guidance.

“This includes our stores, clubs, distribution and fulfillment centers as well as in our corporate offices”, Walmart U.S. President John Furner said in a memo.

The company is also extending its emergency leave policy through the end of May, according to the memo.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Devika Syamnath, Robert Birsel)

Accused El Paso mass shooter to face federal hate crime charges: source

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A Texas man accused of deliberately targeting Mexicans in a shooting spree that killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart store last year will be charged later Thursday with hate crimes, a source with direct knowledge of the case said.

Patrick Crusius, 21, the suspected shooter, is already facing a capital murder trial and has pled not guilty.

The hate crime charges he will now face will be announced by investigators in Texas on Thursday evening, said a source who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak with the media.

Crusius was indicted last year for the August shooting and has pled not guilty in his capital murder trial in a state court. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

He is accused of driving 11 hours to El Paso from his hometown of Allen, near Dallas, on Aug. 3 and firing at shoppers with an AK-47 rifle inside the Walmart store. He surrendered to officers who confronted him outside.

Crusius confessed while surrendering and told police he was targeting Mexicans, according to an El Paso police affidavit released days after the shooting. Most of those killed were Latinos.

A manifesto believed to have posted online by Crusius on 8chan, a message board often used by extremists, described called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum)

Costco in Caracas: how Florida goods flood Venezuelan stores

By Shaylim Valderrama and Sarah Kinosian

CARACAS/MIAMI (Reuters) – While U.S. President Donald Trump wants to drive Venezuela’s socialist ruler out of power with economic sanctions, there has in fact been a burgeoning influx of American-bought goods from Nutella spread to Oreo cookies.

Many toiletries, food items and other imports became impossible to find during Venezuela’s economic implosion under President Nicolas Maduro. Yet now they line the shelves in scores of new U.S. dollar-only shops known as “bodegones”, providing an unlikely safety valve for Maduro.

The reason?

Venezuelan businessmen have taken advantage of his government’s quiet abandonment of price, currency and import controls to buy direct from U.S. wholesalers including Costco and Walmart.

The goods are delivered to Florida-based door-to-door services run by Venezuelans, according to 11 interviews with customs agents, operators and businessmen. The products move in bulk via shipping companies with bases in south Florida who have this year enjoyed a 100% exemption of import duties and waiver of some paperwork at the Venezuelan end, the sources added.

“Everything our customers want from the United Sates, we’ve managed to offer here!” enthused Hector Mambel, who runs a “bodegon” in Puerto Cabello port with a “Mini Walmart” sign outside using the same design as the U.S. giant he buys from.

The shift shows how Venezuela’s economy is evolving to survive sanctions that have hit oil exports.

The trade from Florida does not violate Trump’s sanctions because they target business with Maduro’s government not with private entrepreneurs. It has, however, bemused some Venezuelans used to constant “anti-imperialist” rhetoric.

“I don’t understand this government that speaks ill of the ‘gringos’ and yet we now see U.S. products abound in stores and everything is in dollars,” said teacher Ligia Martinez, 38, holding a bag with purchases of cereal, tuna and cake mix.

She bought the goods at a “bodegon” in the city of Valencia with dollar remittances sent from family abroad.

It was only last year, as the local bolivar currency depreciated precipitously amid hyperinflation, that Maduro lifted a longstanding prohibition on dollar transactions.

Though the goods in the corner-shops are out of reach for most bolivar-earning Venezuelans, a well-heeled elite with dollars makes for a viable business in indulgence products.

“I SELL EVERYTHING”

The “bodegones” are reminiscent of the dollar-only stores communist Cuba ran for foreigners in the 1990s.

Reuters found 120 new such stores in Caracas alone, primarily in middle class areas, outnumbering the 27 bolivar supermarkets in those areas. Competition has brought down the price of niche-market items such as boutique hair products.

The abundance on shelves contrasts with years of scarcity of basics from shampoo to milk borne out of socialist regulations that often forced merchants to sell below cost.

“Bodegon” owners often buy online or partner with door-to-door services who scour chains for knock-down prices.

“Our customers ask us to buy at Costco or (Walmart affiliate) Sam’s Club in the United States and we import what they ask for them,” said an operator of a shipping company that brings supplies from Miami to Caracas.

At least half of the stores Reuters visited sold products from Members Mark, which is Sam’s Club’s private brand, and Costco’s Kirkland brand. Popular items include pancake mix, Pringles, ketchup and cereal, often selling for double or more their U.S. price.

Some of the “bodegones” buy from wholesale importers, meaning they have to hike prices further for margins, so pancake mix for $6.50 or thereabouts in Costco goes for $14 to $20 in Venezuela depending on how many hands it has been through.

Some Venezuelans offer imports direct via Instagram.

“Everything I bring from Miami, I sell,” said one small online merchant, noting his compatriots’ love of foreign goods. “There’s more competition these days, but it’s still good business because Venezuelans are snobbish.”

Costco declined to comment, while Walmart did not respond to a request. Venezuela’s Information Ministry, tax authority and state port agency also did not respond to requests for comment.

Asked for its view of the trade, given the underlying aim of sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department did not respond.

This year’s waiver of import duties and some documentation has been a boon to businessmen, used to crippling bureaucracy and regulations for years. “These imports move with ease, everything is exempted,” said one trader, who brings in products at La Guaira port outside Caracas.

The exemptions expire this month but may be extended.

Felipe Capozzolo, head of Consecomercio chamber of commerce, said the “bodegones” had become an unofficial part of “state policy” to enable Venezuela to stay supplied under sanctions and thus ease pressure on the government.

Maduro himself acknowledged the help from dollar transactions, saying last month they were an “escape valve” for the suffering economy. “I don’t view it badly … this process they call ‘dollarization’,” he said.

Though data has for years been scarce in Venezuela, local think tank Econalitica estimated that in October a remarkable 54% of transactions in main cities was in foreign currency.

Deisy Ruiz, a 47-year-old secretary is among them, buying Nutella for her 20-year-old son’s birthday at a store in the upscale Los Palos Grandes district of east Caracas.

“Just a little one – as a treat!” she said.

(Reporting by Corina Pons, Shaylim Valderram, Mayela Armas in Caracas, Sarah Kinosian in Miami, Tibisay Romero in Puerto Cabello and Valencia; Editing by Corina Pons, Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne)

With stores burned and looted, Walmart seeks police protection in riot-hit Chile

By Aislinn Laing

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Walmart has sought court orders for police protection in protest-wracked Chile after more than 120 of its supermarkets were looted or burned.

The Chilean subsidiary of the U.S.-headquartered retailer  lodged orders with courts in six Chilean cities, saying the attacks on its stores had put its staff’s safety and jobs at risk, “gravely” affected its ability to operate in the country and caused it “enormous economic damage”.

“The state of Chile has failed to fulfill its duty to guarantee public order and internal public security,” it said in court documents submitted on Wednesday and made public on Monday.

It said the state had failed to protect its premises and staff with a “lack of timely reaction to evident vandalism”. The stores operate under the brandnames Lider, Express, aCuenta and Ekono in Chile.

Karla Rubilar, a representative for the Chilean government, told journalists on Monday that it had worked hard to safeguard business interests amid the unrest.

“We worked from day one not only with this company but with all companies and especially small- and medium-sized enterprises to guarantee public order and security,” she said. “We will always be available to work with whoever want us to.”

The court action – in the Chilean cities of Arica, Puerto Montt, Concepcion, Chillan, Temuco and Valdivia – comes after a month of violent riots and protests across the country that started over a hike in public transport fares and broadened to address simmering grievances over endemic inequality.

The protests have left at least 23 dead, 2,365 civilians hospitalized and as many as 14,000 arrested, according to police, prosecutors and human rights groups. The finance minister put the damage to property and public transport at $3 billion.

Walmart Chile, the local subsidiary of the world’s largest company, said in a statement it had experienced 1,200 episodes of lootings and fires at 128 of its approximately 400 stores. It said 34 supermarkets had been set on fire, and 17 of them destroyed.

The company said it had sought the protection orders to ensure its stores could continue supplying customers and will not seek reimbursement from the government for the damages.

(Reporting by Aislinn Laing; additional reporting Erik Lopez and Natalia Ramos; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. agency says Walmart likely discriminated against female workers: WSJ

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc likely discriminated against 178 female workers by paying less or denying promotions or both because of their gender, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in memos reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the newspaper said on Tuesday.

The agency urged Walmart and the women who filed complaints to come to a “just resolution,” which could include a settlement and changes to Walmart’s employment practices, after finding “reasonable cause” to believe there was gender discrimination, the newspaper said.

Walmart is the world’s largest retailer, and according to the newspaper has 1.5 million U.S. employees.

Randy Hargrove, a Walmart spokesman, said Walmart told the EEOC it was willing to engage in a “conciliatory process,” though in most cases the agency’s reasonable cause findings were “vague and non-specific.”

He also said the cases involved allegations that were more than 15 years old and were “not representative of the positive experiences millions of women have had working at Walmart.”

A lawyer who has acted as a co-counsel for women who filed complaints could not immediately be reached for comment.

In 2011, Walmart convinced the U.S. Supreme Court not to let roughly 1.5 million female workers complaining about pay and promotions sue in a class action, with a majority of justices concluding the women had too little in common to sue as a group.

More than 1,900 women have since pursued cases and filed charges with the EEOC accusing the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer of gender discrimination, the Journal said.

The charges involving the 178 women come from more than 30 states, and it is rare for the EEOC to pursue that many cases against one employer over such a wide geographic area, the newspaper added, citing labor lawyers.

An EEOC spokesman told the newspaper that the agency cannot discuss investigations or the administrative process until litigation is filed.

(Reporting by New York Newsroom; Editing by David Gregorio)

Mexico pushes U.S. to designate El Paso shooting an act terrorism

FILE PHOTO: A man places an American flag in the pile of flowers that has gathered a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare/File Photo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s government on Wednesday doubled down on its assertion that the Aug. 3 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, was an act of terrorism against Mexicans and urged the United States to ensure the incident was designated as such.

Speaking after meetings on Tuesday between U.S. and Mexican government officials about the case, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a regular government news conference that steps needed to be taken to prevent future killings.

“It’s very important to persevere, to specify, clarify and demand that measures are taken so that this is not repeated, and the first measure is to classify it for what it is, an act of terrorism that seeks to take Mexican lives,” Ebrard said.

Twenty-two people lost their lives in the shooting at a Walmart store in the U.S. border city, an event Mexico quickly said it would investigate as a terrorist act.

A four-page statement believed to have been authored by the suspected shooter Patrick Crusius, and posted on 8chan, an online message board often used by extremists, called the El Paso attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

And according to an El Paso police affidavit released on Friday, Crusius told police while surrendering that he had been targeting “Mexicans.”

“There will be those who say, ‘No, no, no, this isn’t terrorism, it’s just one person,'” Ebrard said, alongside Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

“Well, it needs to be said that the man who carried out this despicable, abominable and appalling act is part of a network, but he also uploaded a manifesto to the network.”

“What he says is terrible, but it’s not that he’s mad; he is in possession of his faculties,” Ebrard added.

The Mexican government has said it may also request the suspected perpetrator be extradited to Mexico for trial.

The attack caused widespread revulsion in Mexico at a time of persistent diplomatic tensions between Trump administration and the Mexican government over trade and immigration.

Mexico’s government last week pressed the United States to cooperate in helping to identify white supremacists who are a threat to its citizens after the attack.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Richard Chang)

Texas shooting suspect’s mother alerted police about his gun ownership: CNN

A group of people hold candles during a vigil at a memorial four days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

(Reuters) – The Dallas-area mother of the young man arrested in the mass shooting that killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, had called police weeks earlier expressing concern about his fitness to own an assault-style rifle, CNN said on Wednesday.

The mother contacted the Allen Police Department because she worried whether her son, aged 21, was mature or experienced enough in handling such a weapon to have purchased an “AK”-type firearm, CNN said, citing lawyers for the suspect’s family.

CNN quoted the lawyers, Chris Ayres and R. Jack Ayres, as saying the mother’s call was “informational” in nature rather than motivated by concern that her son posed a threat to anyone.

“This was not a volatile, explosive, erratic-behaving kid,” Chris Ayres told the network. “It’s not like alarm bells were going off.”

CNN said it was not known whether the gun the mother inquired about was the same weapon police said was used in Saturday’s attack. Authorities have said they are investigating the attack as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism.

Police say the suspect, Patrick Crusius, a white male from the Dallas suburb of Allen, drove some 650 miles (1,046 km) to the west Texas border city of El Paso before opening fire at a Walmart store there.

Most of the 22 people killed were Hispanic, including eight Mexican citizens. At least two dozen people were injured. The suspect, who surrendered to police, has been charged with capital murder.

A racist, anti-immigrant manifesto believed by authorities to have been written by the suspect was posted online shortly before the attack, which the author called a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

During his mother’s query to Allen police weeks earlier, according to her attorneys, she was transferred to a public safety officer who told her that based on her description of her son, he was legally allowed to buy the weapon in question, CNN said.

The mother, the lawyers told the network, did not give police her son’s name, and police did not seek any additional information from her before the call ended.

Attempts by Reuters to reach the attorneys cited in CNN’s story on Wednesday night were unsuccessful. Allen police were also not immediately available to discuss the report.

A statement posted by Allen police on Twitter this week, in response to media inquiries about the suspect’s prior encounters with law enforcement, listed just three relatively minor contacts in department records.

The most recent, in March, was a false burglar alarm reported by the suspect at his grandparents’ home, a call police said “was cleared without incident according to protocol.”

In 2016, the suspect was a passenger on a school bus involved in a minor accident investigated by police, and in 2014, he was reported as a juvenile runaway, but returned home without incident about 30 minutes later, police said.

Police told CNN those three incidents represent “the entirety of our dealings with Mr. Crusius, in any capacity, be it suspect, witness, reporting party, or in any other manner.”

CNN quoted an unnamed source familiar with the family as describing Crusius as undecided about his life, having considered transferring from a community college to a four-year university, enlisting in the military and seeking a full-time job.

“He was trying to figure out what to do next,” the source said. “When did the wheels come off? We don’t know.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)