Numerous designers and boutique owners closed their stores across California during the weekend, with most saying that it is happening primarily due to the retail crime wave that has picked up significantly in the past month.
Since November, many high and boutique store robberies and “flash mob” smash-and-grabs have taken place in California, in which large groups of people enter a store all at once to overwhelm security and proceed to rob the store. While the multiple robberies at San Francisco’s Union Square in late November was reported on nationally, others have popped up in the East Bay Area and throughout Los Angeles.
The long-term implementation effects of the law enforcement weakening propositions of Prop 47 and Prop 57, decreasing numbers of law enforcement officials and police defunding caused by a police backlash last year, and local decisions to stop prosecuting or charging people for many crimes, are the primary reasons behind the current crime wave in California.
In response to the growing number of similar robberies, cities have signed off on several new laws and budget changes in the past few weeks. Among these changes have been more officers being sent out to vulnerable locations, new local laws that allow more private security, more funding going to license plate readers, new laws that expand the number of available law enforcement officials who can work in private security, and local police coming up with better patrol routes and ways to halt the flash mob-style robberies.
For some stores, this has not been enough. During the weekend, many high-end designer stores, as well as boutiques closed down in the middle of the lucrative holiday shopping season due to the crime wave.
“It breaks your heart, but we’ve had to tell clients that the store is gone and that we’re only selling online now,” Kat Bergen, an artisanal candlemaker in the Bay Area whose clientele includes billionaires and movie stars, told the Globe on Monday. “The store is why we exist today. But it has just been this bad. We have insurance, of course, but thieves taking everything would still ruin us because of how long it can take to make some our things. So us closing our physical store really was our best option here.”
Crime wave in LA, Bay Area
In LA’s Beverly Center, the site of some of the most brazen robberies in recent weeks, some tenants have also begun pulling out. Among them have been the Elle B. Zhou designer store.
“It became a difficult and kind of dangerous situation for me to keep my store there,” said store owner Elle B. Mambetov in a Fox Business interview. “Once they find an open back door, they steal merchandise from storage and other areas of the store. There is usually punishment, but right now in L.A., if you go and you do a ‘grab and run,’ they actually just release you on bail and you’re free to go the next day and do it again. And how does that really stop someone?”
“You know, the climate is just so unstable right now. I think it does make people really nervous, especially up-and-coming businesses. It’s just such a scary time. It’s not that we, as retailers, don’t think we’re not going to get the money back, or that there’s no insurance that we can’t press charges, or there isn’t a civil case to be done.”
“These people also are coming with guns, they’re coming with knives, they’re coming with tasers. So it’s not so much even about the fact, it’s about a danger element that comes with it.”
A failing crime deterrent in California
Police and security officials told the Globe on Monday that even with a greater police presence, the knowledge that a criminal will be out back on the street after the crime fails to deter criminals, and in many cases, actually emboldens them.
“A lot of them see no major consequences for this. They see it as a video game or TV show,” said Frank Ma, a former law enforcement official who now works as a security advisor for businesses in the Bay Area, to the Globe on Monday. “They can go somewhere and rob them in a very elaborate, even cinematic, manner, then if they’re caught, they’re back on the street in a handful of hours. Low risk, high reward essentially.”
“Yes, there are more police out there now. Patrols have increased and everything. But if you have fewer cops to begin with due to staffing issues or reductions stemming from George Floyd-era police changes, it doesn’t really help things. And these guys are also stretched thin already due to a large number of crimes in other categories, like car break-ins or assaults, also being a part of this crime wave.”
“It’s bad right now. I can’t blame these store owners wanting to close.”
Paul, a police officer in a Bay area police Department, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Globe on Monday that many officers are already feeling fatigue from the crime rise.
“We have so many businesses requesting more police assistance, reporting robberies, or even just asking for a patrol to go by more frequently to help deter these crimes from taking place. We’re doing all we can, but we’ve been more and more constrained in the past several years. Some of us even think what the point is in taking down robbery information from those who reported it, finding the guy, bringing him in, only to see him walk out soon after.”
“Something is wrong with this system.”
While police and law enforcement are doing their best with what they have and can do, retailers say it’s not enough.
“We appreciate them for what they’re doing to help. We really do,” added Bergen. “But it has just been too much even for them. Online only stores are now more of a thing in response really.”
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