The company who cried retail theft? Walgreens store closures cause uproar in San Francisco
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Oct. 18. I’m Justin Ray.
In June, a video of a man’s brazen robbery inside a San Francisco Walgreens went viral. The suspect behind the theft of approximately $978 worth of merchandise was detained and charged days later, according to the San Francisco Police Department.
The incident has been heavily cited by those looking for a more aggressive approach to law enforcement in the city. However, a recent announcement involving retail theft is being met with a different response.
Drugstore chain Walgreens said it would be closing an additional five stores in the city, bringing the number of shuttered locations to 22 in the past five years, according to San Francisco Chronicle. The company has cited “organized retail crime” for the closings.
Instead of cries for a crackdown on crime, the news has been met with intense skepticism.
The Chronicle published a story that, citing data from the city’s Police Department, pointed out how one store set to close “had only seven reported shoplifting incidents this year and a total of 23 since 2018.” While it is important to note that not all incidents are reported to police, the five stores being shut down “had fewer than two recorded shoplifting incidents a month on average since 2018.”
Some have also pointed out the company’s prior plans to reduce its stores. In an August 2019 SEC filing, Walgreens stated that it planned to close approximately 200 following “a review of the real estate footprint in the United States.”
San Francisco’s own leaders have openly questioned the company’s claims.
“They are saying [retail theft is] the primary reason, but I also think when a place is not generating revenue, and when they’re saturated — S.F. has a lot of Walgreens locations all over the city — so I do think that there are other factors that come into play,” Mayor London Breed said last week.
Supervisor Dean Preston posted on Twitter a thread calling out news outlets for accepting the company’s justification for the downsizing.
“Media reports have accepted without analysis Walgreens’ assertion that it’s closing due to retail theft,” Preston wrote, in part. “Is Walgreens closing stores because of theft or because of a pre-existing business plan to cut costs and increase profits by consolidating stores and shifting customers to online purchases?”
Walgreens didn’t respond to the Chronicle article when asked for a comment on the paper’s claims. Instead, the company said in a statement: “Organized retail crime continues to be a challenge facing retailers across San Francisco, and we are not immune to that. Retail theft across our San Francisco stores has continued to increase in the past few months to five times our chain average. During this time to help combat this issue, we increased our investments in security measures in stores across the city to 46 times our chain average in an effort to provide a safe environment.”
In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation to reestablish a law enforcement unit coordinated by the California Highway Patrol that is focused on combating organized shoplifting rings in California.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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