Rampant Shoplifting Leads to Another Store Closing

After months of seeing its shelves repeatedly cleaned out by brazen shoplifters, the Walgreens at Van Ness and Eddy in San Francisco is getting ready to close.

The drugstore, which serves many older people who live in the Opera Plaza area, is the seventh Walgreens to close in the city since 2019. “The last day is November 11,” Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso said.

The drugstore, which serves many older people who live in the Opera Plaza area, is the seventh Walgreens to close in the city since 2019.

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“All of us knew it was coming. Whenever we go in there, they always have problems with shoplifters, ” said longtime customer Sebastian Luke, who lives a block away and is a frequent customer who has been posting photos of the thefts for months. The other day, Luke photographed a man casually clearing a couple of shelves and placing the goods into a backpack.

“I feel sorry for the clerks, they are regularly being verbally assaulted,” Luke said. “The clerks say there is nothing they can do. They say Walgreens’ policy is to not get involved. They don’t want anyone getting injured or getting sued, so the guys just keep coming in and taking whatever they want.”

For security reasons, Walgreens declined to provide details on their security policies, but Caruso did say that “the safety of our team members and customers is our top concern.”

A recent trip to the store revealed aisle after aisle of empty or near-empty shelves. Beauty supplies appear to be a favored target.

Most of the remaining products were locked behind plastic theft guards, which have become increasingly common at drugstores in recent years.

But at Van Ness Avenue and Eddy Street, even the jugs of clothing detergent on display were looped with locked anti-theft cables.

When a clerk was asked where all the goods had gone, he said, “Go ask the people in the alleys, they have it all.”

Homeless encampments are common in the neighborhood, including two just across Eddy Street.

No sooner had the clerk spoken than a man wearing a virus mask walked in, emptied two shelves of snacks into a bag, then headed back for the door.

As he walked past the checkout line, a customer called out, “Sure you don’t want a drink with that?”

Just across busy Van Ness and down a block, a competing CVS pharmacy was fully stocked.

The difference? The CVS had a security guard at the door.

“Up there, they are closer to the Tenderloin. It’s the Wild West,” said a CVS clerk who was standing with the security guard.

The homeless encampments and the thefts at the Walgreens were front and center at a neighborhood town hall at St. Mary’s Cathedral in March.

Police responded by placing two officers and a squad car outside the store at the corner of Eddy and Van Ness.

“Everyone was happy,” Luke said.

But as the pandemic shutdown dragged on, the officers were needed elsewhere. And a short time later, the thieves returned in full force.

Why not?

Under California law, theft of less than $950 in goods is treated as a nonviolent misdemeanor. The maximum sentence for petty theft is six months in county jail. But most of the time the suspect is released with conditions attached.

The Van Ness location is at least the third Walgreens to close in the city in the past year. The Walgreens at 16th and Mission streets closed in December. The Walgreens at 730 Market St. closed in March.

It’s hard to pin down how much the market forces that prompted the closure of 200 Walgreens nationwide was a factor in the local closures and how much theft contributed — or if it was a combination of reasons.

In February, the local news website Hoodline reported that an employee at the Market Street store said the store couldn’t cope with the shoplifting, which was costing the company $1,000 a day.

“Organized retail crime in San Francisco has increased the challenge for all retail, and Walgreens is not immune to that,” company spokesman Caruso said.

Jay Cheng, public policy director for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said the rising incidents of shoplifting and worsening street conditions have made it difficult for all neighborhood retail stores to continue to operate in San Francisco.

“We’ve already seen California Attorney General Xavier Becerra uncover a major Bay Area retail theft ring with over $8 million in stolen merchandise,” Cheng said. “These crimes make it dangerous for businesses, employees and customers, and need to be addressed.”

Some stores have hired private security firms or off-duty police officers to deter would-be thieves. But security is expensive and can cost upward of $1,000 a day.

Add in the losses from theft, and the cost of doing business can become too high for a store to stay open. As for the customers at the Van Ness Walgreens, their prescriptions will be handled by the Walgreens at 1301 Franklin Street. At least for as long as it stays open… San Francisco Chronicle

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