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Is shoplifting forcing Walgreens to chop again in SF? Information on the closing shops places the declare into perspective – San Francisco Chronicle

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https://www.sfchronicle.com/sf/article/Is-shoplifting-forcing-Walgreens-to-cut-back-in-16536960.php

Information launched by the San Francisco Police Division doesn’t assist the reason introduced by Walgreens that it’s closing 5 shops due to organized, rampant retail theft.

One of many shops set to shut, on Ocean Avenue, had solely seven reported shoplifting incidents this 12 months and a complete of 23 since 2018, the info confirmed. While not all shoplifting incidents are reported to police, the 5 shops slated to shut had fewer than two recorded shoplifting incidents a month on common since 2018.

The announcement put Walgreens on the middle of one of the city’s most acrimonious debates. What amounted to the closure of a small handful of chain drugstores within the metropolis drew nationwide media consideration, fueled by an more and more bitter battle over how San Francisco polices and prosecutes crime.

“We’ve been sounding the alarm for some time that this concern will not be getting higher,” stated Rachel Michelin, president and CEO of the California Retailers Affiliation, which represents the perspective of retailers.

However the timing of Walgreens’ resolution led observers to wonder if a $140 billion firm was utilizing an unsubstantiated narrative of unchecked shoplifting to obscure different doable components in its resolution.

“They’re saying (shoplifting is) the first motive, however I additionally assume when a spot will not be producing income, and once they’re saturated — S.F. has a variety of Walgreens places everywhere in the metropolis — so I do assume that there are different components that come into play,” Mayor London Breed advised reporters final week.

A Walgreens spokesperson declined Friday to reply particular questions concerning the retailer closings and whether or not different components — reminiscent of competitors from on-line retailers, stagnating foot visitors due to the pandemic and initially opening too many shops in San Francisco — performed into the choice.

A Chronicle evaluation of metropolis maps discovered 53 Walgreens in San Francisco, in contrast with 22 CVS shops. These numbers embody places which are solely pharmacies, inside medical buildings or different retailers.

Spokesperson Phil Caruso stated he was additionally unable to share figures concerning the shops’ income. He as a substitute referred again to a earlier assertion from the corporate, saying that over the previous few months, retail theft in San Francisco had escalated to “5 instances our chain common” at its shops and that consequently, the company had ramped up investments in safety for San Francisco places “to 46 instances our chain common.”

4 years in the past, Walgreens advised shareholders it deliberate to shut 600 shops nationwide. It wound up closing 769. In 2019, the Illinois firm stated in a U.S. Safety and Change Fee submitting that it could shutter 200 shops, or fewer than 3% of its 10,000 places within the U.S. — considered one of a number of cost-saving measures projected to save lots of $1.5 billion in annual bills by 2022, in keeping with the filings.

San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston appeared exasperated and skeptical of Walgreens’ rationale. One of many 5 ill-fated shops, at 300 Gough St., sits in his district.

“Walgreens is abandoning the group. We have no idea precisely why,” he stated The Chronicle. Preston tweeted that his workplace is attempting to get “additional readability” on the impetus for the closures, and assess “whether or not there’s a path” to maintain the Gough Road retailer open.

“Two issues are true: Walgreens has skilled retail theft, and Walgreens has lengthy deliberate to shut shops. We have no idea which issue or components led to the choice to shut 300 Gough and different San Francisco shops,” Preston stated.

One Stanford economist noticed that in San Francisco, the shopper base is dwindling given the decline in inhabitants downtown after the pandemic and the variety of folks working remotely.

“Since working from house is right here to remain, metropolis middle retail goes to see decrease demand in the long term,” Stanford College economics Professor Nicholas Bloom wrote in an e mail, citing a research he revealed in Could that reveals 15% of residents left town middle through the pandemic and haven’t returned.

“So that is going to be considered one of many such retailer closures,” Bloom speculated.

“Whereas Walgreens could have publicly blamed this on greater thefts, one other issue is there are merely much less folks within the metropolis middle, spending much less cash,” he stated.

Police data present that the fives shops slated to shut skilled 319 shoplifting incidents because the starting of 2018. The numbers appeared to swing wildly: The Walgreens at 4645 Mission St., which had probably the most shoplifting studies — 37 — in 2020, had the bottom quantity — 3 — as of Oct. 13 this 12 months.

Shoplifting in San Francisco grew to become a viral story after the huge circulation of a video in June displaying a person grabbing gadgets from cabinets in a Walgreens at 300 Gough St. and stuffing them into rubbish luggage. The Gough Road retailer is among the many shops set to shut. He rode out of the shop on a bicycle whereas two astonished onlookers — one sporting a safety guard’s uniform — recorded the incident on their cell telephones.

By saying it was closing shops due to shoplifting, Walgreens inserted itself into one of the crucial divisive political battles within the metropolis, one which contributed to a broader debate about crime and legislation enforcement. Proponents of the recall of District Lawyer Chesa Boudin, for instance, level to shoplifting as one instance of how life within the metropolis has deteriorated on his watch.

In an opinion piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune, California Republican Get together Chair Jessica Millan Patterson pointed to the 5 Walgreens closures as proof that “Democratic insurance policies have created against the law spike.”

Retailers have been sad because the state in 2014 handed Proposition 47, which classifies shoplifting as a misdemeanor until the stolen gadgets have been valued at greater than $950. They’ve unsuccessfully sought to have the legislation overturned. The California Retailers Affiliation lobbied towards the legislation’s passage. Legal reform advocates argue that minor shoplifting arrests disproportionately have an effect on underrepresented communities and contribute to unfairly excessive incarceration charges.

Michelin contended that shoplifting is a heavy burden for chain shops and different retailers. Hiring safety guards and putting in locked circumstances is dear, she stated. She anticipated to see different retailers shut down sooner or later.

Some metropolis officers shared that concern, which is why they started a multipronged effort by including extra devoted police investigators and upgrading town’s on-line reporting system.

San Francisco does battle with unusually excessive property crime charges in contrast with many different cities. In response to a 2019 report by the Public Coverage Institute of California, San Francisco had the best charge of property crime per capita of any metropolis within the state. That’s most likely no less than partly due to town’s excessive ranges of financial inequality and inhabitants density, felony justice researcher Magnus Lofstrom beforehand advised The Chronicle.

Misplaced someplace within the dialog are clients, who’ve grown impatient with the locked cabinets and different safety measures, and the specter of fewer shops subsequent month.

“It’s all very unhappy,” Haight resident Qussay Ammar stated, standing outdoors the Gough Road Walgreens on Thursday afternoon. Employees had already packed up the merchandise within the cosmetics aisle, now lined with containers and empty cabinets. Most different merchandise, from air freshener, to nutritional vitamins, to anti-bacterial wipes, have been behind plexiglass.

One other shopper, Keira Wiele, stated she’d witnessed “a variety of retail theft at this specific Walgreens,” however that she’s nonetheless cautious of the corporate’s messaging.

“Do I feel they’re ready the place individuals are grabbing a pair snacks from the cabinets right here or there? Sure,” Wiele stated.

“Do I feel it’s an enormous concern? No.”

On Friday, clients on the Ocean Avenue Walgreens stopped to gape at an indication within the entrance window. It marked Nov. 8 because the final day of enterprise.

San Francisco Chronicle workers author Susie Neilson contributed to this report.

Rachel Swan, Danielle Echevarria and Shwanika Narayan are San Francisco Chronicle workers writers. E mail: rswan@sfchronicle.com,
danielle.echeverria@sfchronicle.com, shwanika.narayan@sfchronicle.com
Twitter: @rachelswan,
@DanielleEchev, @shwanika

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