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Is Shoplifting Forcing Walgreens To Cut SF? Data on store closures puts the claim in perspective

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Data released by the San Francisco Police Department does not support Walgreens’ reported explanation that it is closing five stores due to organized and rampant retail thefts.

One of the stores on the verge of closure on Ocean Avenue has reported just seven shoplifting incidents this year and a total of 23 since 2018, the data shows. While not all shoplifting is reported to police, the five stores expected to close have seen less than two shoplifting per month on average since 2018.

The announcement put Walgreens at the center of one of the city’s most acrimonious debates. What amounted to shutting down a small handful of drugstore chains in the city caught national media attention, fueled by an increasingly bitter fight over how San Francisco controls and prosecutes crime.

It has been a while since we sounded the alarm bells that this problem is not improving, said Rachel Michelin, president and CEO of the California Retailers Association, which represents the retailer perspective.

But the timing of Walgreens’ decision has left observers wondering if a $ 140 billion company was using an unsubstantiated account of uncontrolled shoplifting to mask other possible factors in their decision.

They say (shoplifting is) the main reason, but I also think a place is not generating income and it’s saturated, SF has a lot of Walgreens locations all over town so I think that there are other factors that come into play, the mayor of London Breed told reporters this week.

A Walgreens spokesperson on Friday declined to answer specific questions about store closures and whether other factors, such as competition from online retailers, stagnant pedestrian traffic due to the pandemic, and the opening. originally too many stores in San Francisco played into the decision.

A Chronicle analysis of city maps found 53 Walgreens in San Francisco, compared to 22 CVS stores. These numbers include locations that are pharmacies only, inside medical buildings, or other retailers.

Spokesman Phil Caruso said he was also unable to share the store revenue figures. Rather, he referred to a previous statement from the company, claiming that in recent months retail theft in San Francisco has been five times our chain’s average in its stores and as a result , the company had stepped up its investments in security. for San Francisco locations at 46 times our chain average.

Four years ago, Walgreens announced to its shareholders its intention to close 600 stores across the country. It ended up closing 769. In 2019, the Illinois-based company said in a US Security and Exchange Commission filing that it would close 200 stores, less than 3% of its 10,000 locations in the United States. one of many cost-saving measures planned to save $ 1.5 billion in annual spending by 2022, according to the documents.

Supervisor Dean Preston seemed exasperated and skeptical of Walgreens’ reasoning. One of the five ill-fated stores, at 300 Gough Street, is in his neighborhood.

Walgreens is abandoning the community. We don’t know exactly why, he told The Chronicle. Preston tweeted that his office was trying to get more clarity on the momentum of the closings and assess whether there is a way to keep the Gough Street store open.

Two things are true: Walgreens has been the victim of retail theft, and Walgreens have long been considering closing stores. We don’t know what factor or factors led to the decision to close 300 Gough stores and other stores in San Francisco, Preston said.

A Stanford economist observed that in San Francisco, customers are shrinking given the decline in the downtown population following the pandemic and the number of people working remotely.

Since working from home is here to stay, downtown retail will experience a long-term decline in demand, Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom wrote in an e -mail, citing a study he released in May that shows 15% of residents have left the city. center during the pandemic and did not return.

So this will be one of many such store closings, Bloom speculated.

Police records show that the five stores scheduled to close have seen 319 incidents of shoplifting since the start of 2018. The numbers seemed to fluctuate wildly: The Walgreens at 4645 Mission Street, which had the most reports of theft on display 37 in 2020, had the lowest number 3 as of October 13 this year.

The San Francisco shoplifting became a viral story following the wide release of a video in June showing a man grabbing items from the shelves of a Walgreens at 300 Gough Street and putting them in bags trash cans. The Gough Street store is among the stores on the verge of closure. He exited the store on his bicycle as two astonished spectators, one of whom was wearing a security guard uniform, recorded the incident on their cell phones.

So while Walgreens has publicly blamed this on larger thefts, another factor is that there are simply fewer people in the downtown area, spending less money, Bloom said.

By announcing store closures due to shoplifting, Walgreens has entered one of the city’s most controversial political battles, which has contributed to a wider debate on crime and the enforcement of the law. Supporters of District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s recall, for example, cite shoplifting as an example of how life in the city has deteriorated under his watch.

In a opinion piece for the San Diego Union-TribuneCalifornia Republican Party President Jessica Millan Patterson pointed to the five Walgreens closures as evidence Democratic policies have created a spike in crime.

Retailers have been unhappy since the state passed Proposition 47 in 2014, which classified shoplifting as a misdemeanor unless the stolen items were valued at more than $ 950. They tried unsuccessfully to overturn the law. The CRA lobbied against the passage of the laws. Proponents of penal reform argue that minor arrests for shoplifting disproportionately affect underrepresented communities and contribute to unfairly high incarceration rates.

Michelin argued that shoplifting places a heavy burden on chain stores and other traders. Hiring security guards and installing locked boxes is expensive, she said. She expected to see more retailers close in the future.

Some city officials shared this concern, which is why they launched a multi-fronted effort by adding more dedicated police investigators and improving the city’s online reporting system.

San Francisco struggles with unusually high property crime rates compared to many other cities. According to a 2019 report from the Public Policy Institute of California, San Francisco had the highest per capita property crime rate of any city in the state. This is likely at least in part because of the city’s high levels of economic inequality and population density, criminal justice researcher Magnus Lofstrom previously told The Chronicle.

Customers, who have grown impatient with locked shelves and other security measures, and the specter of fewer stores next month are lost somewhere in the conversation.

It’s very sad, said Haight resident Qussay Ammar on Thursday afternoon outside the Gough Street Walgreens. The workers had already packed the merchandise in the cosmetics aisle, now lined with empty boxes and shelves. Most of the other products, from deodorant to vitamins, to antibacterial wipes, were behind the plexiglass.

Another buyer, Keira Wiele, said the hangar had witnessed numerous retail thefts at this particular Walgreens, but was still wary of the company’s messages.

Do I think they’re in a position where people have a few snacks off the shelves here or there? Yes, said Wiele.

Do I think this is a huge problem? No.

Customers at Ocean Avenue Walgreens stopped to gawk at a sign in the front window on Friday. It marked November 8 as the last day of business.

Chronicle editor Susie Neilson contributed to this report.

Rachel Swan, Danielle Echevarria, and Shwanika Narayan are editors of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]
[email protected], [email protected]
Twitter: @rachelswan
@DanielleEchev @shwanika

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