The growing crime wave in Los Angeles and Southern California claimed a new retail victim on Tuesday when Starbucks announced that 6 stores in the LA area would be closing due to crime and safety issues.
Starbucks had initially heavily hinted at possible closures in a letter to Starbucks partners on Monday. In the letter, the company noted many current challenges facing employees and owners, highlighting personal safety, racism, lack of access to healthcare, a growing mental health crisis, rising drug use, and other issues hindering stores. This also included closures coming as a result of them.
In a list of possible programs and policies, Starbucks specifically pointed out “Modifying operations, closing a restroom, or even closing a store permanently, where safety in the third place is no longer possible, always doing so with the utmost respect for our customers and the community and transferring partners to nearby stores if we close.”
The very next day, Starbucks announced that 16 stores nationwide in Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Portland, OR would be closing, including 6 alone in the LA area.
“After careful consideration, we are closing some stores in locations that have experienced a high volume of challenging incidents that make it unsafe to continue to operate, to open new locations with safer conditions,” said a Starbucks spokesman on Tuesday. In a follow-up, the incidents in question causing the closures involved heavy drug usage by customers and other members of the public in stores.
In LA, three of the stores will be closing in LA proper, along with one Hollywood location, one West Hollywood location, and one location in Santa Monica to close as well. Some of the stores are in famed or popular locations, with the Santa Monica location being on the beach right on Ocean Front Walk, with two close Hollywood locations on Hollywood and Western and the famed Hollywood and Vine intersection having high foot traffic on the Walk of Fame.
“Yeah, customers, particularly tourists, are great,” Rowan Watson, a business owner on Hollywood Boulevard nearby one of the Starbucks locations, told the Globe on Wednesday. “But crime is high here, and yeah, I totally get the high drug use. But we can say no to people coming in our stores. If someone looks shady, they are out. For Starbucks, they have that open bathroom policy. They got a lot of heat a few years back for refusing bathrooms to non-customers, so they made it store policy to allow everyone, and look what happened. That’s what you get for bowing to public pressure on an issue that made stores safe.”
“I would say that Starbucks is more to blame here actually. Yeah, crime is bad, drug use here is bad. But if the stores could refuse services to people more or were not as afraid to call the LAPD to come, they likely would not have seen this.”
Open bathroom policy, unionization efforts also blamed for factoring into closures
While not noted in the letter, Starbucks is currently looking into ending the open bathroom policy due to the heightened number of incidents.
Also not noted was the growing number of Starbucks unionization efforts. According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) 133 Starbucks stores are now unionized in the U.S., with many happening only recently. While it is still only a small percentage of the 9,000 stores nationwide, many have worried what unionization will bring, with some even charging that the 16 stores closed earlier this week was to help stop the spread by targeting stores in union friendly cities for closure.
“The timing, and locations, could not be more suspicious,” added labor union consultant Patricia Suarez to the Globe on Wednesday. “They’ve done this before, halting unionization by shutting down stores claiming other problems at them. And look at the locations some of these places were at. How could you not have good business there? I’m not saying crimes didn’t happen there either, but that is just way too convenient an excuse for those areas.”
However, many commentators did seem to agree that a reduction in crime was needed regardless, as other stores could follow suit.
“We don’t want to lose any more places here,” continued Watson. “That’s a lot of people with jobs. And, for businesses here, these stores add to the foot traffic here that benefit us all. If some more police swing by and we reduce the number of homeless here, we can be well on our way to recovery. But we need that help first, or else more stores might go too. We don’t really need that now. You would expect this in San Francisco. Not here.”
The Starbucks stores that were listed for closure are expected to be gone by the end of the month.
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