This story has been updated to add comment from a Target spokesman.
Last week, after Walgreens announced that five additional outlets in San Francisco would be closing on top of the 17 that already have been shuttered since 2019, the company claimed that changes in both the law and prosecutor attitudes had made it impossible to run a profitable business in the city.
Mayor London Breed challenged that narrative. She attributed the closings to demographic shifts and the Chronicle dutifully reported that “the five stores slated to close had fewer than two recorded shoplifting incidents a month on average since 2018” (while acknowledging that few stores bother to report a crime that now routinely goes unpunished). Everyone who has stood in line at a drugstore and watched thieves shove hundreds of dollars of items down their pants knew that Breed was mistaken at best or lying at worst.
Now, in a Globe exclusive, San Francisco Police Department officers revealed that the iconic Target on Mission Street between Third and Fourth Streets will be shutting its doors before the end of the year.
“This store loses $25,000 a day to shoplifting,” an SFPD officer told the Globe in lengthy, taped interviews conducted this week. “That’s $25,000 that walks out the door on average between 9 and 6 every day.”
(The Globe is redacting the officers’ names because of critical remarks made about Mayor London Breed and District Attorney Chesa Boudin that could potentially endanger their jobs.)
“This store does between $80,000 to $120,000 in sales every day. And they lose 25 of it [meaning $25,000]. Even if they’re making 25% profit, the stealing takes that down to zero.”
Asked if the presence of armed, uniformed police officers had any deterrent effect on thieves, one officer was blunt in his assessment.
“They don’t care. There’s no consequences. Literally zero consequences. I’ve kicked out… I’ve been here since 9 AM today. I probably have already kicked out eight or nine people and I’ve recovered a thousand dollars worth of stuff alone off of that. Whether we kick them out, tell them they can’t come back, whether I put them in handcuffs and take them down to the county jail—there is no difference. Because they will not be prosecuted by the district attorney. Therefore, there is nothing documented that they can’t come back here. You know, they get no time in jail to think about what they did, right? There is zero consequence. And that’s why in this store the same exact people come in every other day and in the city the same couple percent of people are the same people committing all the car break-ins, all the robberies and all the shootings, any aggravated assaults right in town where there’s more street people, people fighting. It’s all the same exact people, and there are zero consequences. Therefore you take them to jail they get out of jail. They do it again. It’s a big circle.”
Target has already taken measures to decrease the catastrophic shrinkage. In July, the retailer cited an “‘alarming rise’ in thefts at its San Francisco stores” and cut its hours. The Mission St. store had been open from 8 am to 10 pm and is now open only from 9 am to 6 pm. One officer told the Globe the new hours inconvenienced hard-working San Franciscans who struggle to buy their diapers and Diet Cokes before 6 pm.
“Their hours, all Targets in San Francisco right now compressed their hours, right? Every store is 9 AM to 6 PM, which pisses everybody off down here because a lot of people get off work at 6 o’clock and they come in and they are like, ‘What? Target is closed?’ … ‘Yeah, Target is closed.’ It is out of control. … They are closing the one on Bush Street. There’s one on Bush and Sansome, right there. They are closing it in a month. Right before Thanksgiving. That one is closing partly because the Financial District isn’t back you know, right.”
But according to this officer, the Mission Street Target will also be closed by the end of the year despite having solid revenue, because they cannot get the shoplifting under control. “In San Francisco, the only reason why they haven’t closed. They want to have it here, right, and this is the biggest one in San Francisco.”
In addition to the limited hours, the retail giant has taken other measures. The Mission Street store locks not just those items that have become commonplace at high-theft areas throughout San Fran such as Tylenol and razors. But also, in a first for California Globe, Tide and other heavy, large laundry detergents were also behind lock and key. Vitamins, false eyelashes, Nicorette, skin creams, Lego, water bottles, hairdryers and even bulky low-priced items like body wash all are protected by sophisticated anti-theft equipment. Even the “fancy” toothpaste. All of which, of course, raises costs for the honest hard-working shoppers and slows the checkout process for all. It also means an embarrassing quest to find a customer service person who now needs to be told of a shopper’s smelliness, dry skin and frizzy hair.
Still, they steal. Earlier this week, a reporter from the Globe spotted a man shoving food down his pants without a worry in the world. And even when items are not exactly removed from the store, they’re still stolen. When the Globe reporter went to buy Fig Newtons, every single package on the shelves had been opened and had several delicious cookies removed. A display of Hershey’s Kisses had been magically transformed into a “grab a free handful” situation by the industrious residents of SOMA.
On a recent visit, one red-vested employee was busily installing additional theft guard barriers.
And none of it has been enough to ward off the imminent shuttering of a beloved—and necessary—local institution.
Care to enjoy a Frappuccino while you shop? Just take it. Drink it. Then put the empty on the shelf. Like Reese’s Pieces? (Who doesn’t!) Just rip off the top and pop ’em down like they did in E.T. It’s not only gross, it’s completely demoralizing to the staff. Irene, a checker, told the Globe that she gets furious watching customers steal while she works hard to pay for what her family needs. And now her store will be closing.
The Globe told the police officers that we, like all of the world, had seen store security officers routinely ignored by aggressive shoplifters. But we expressed surprise that even the full-time presence of two armed and uniformed SFPD wasn’t enough to deter this level of crime.
One officer told the Globe, “Our chief of police actually came in a couple of months ago and did the same thing you did. He literally was like shocked that everything was locked up and he didn’t understand why and that’s kind of a little naïve on his end, but the same thing. And one worker went up to him and was almost like tearing up and she was like, ‘If you don’t have officers here tomorrow, I’m not coming to work.’ We’re here for the theft, sort of, but our main objective in essence is to protect the employees, because all the people that come in. The security guards tell these people all day long, ‘Get out, get out, get out.’ And what do they do? They flip them off or berate them or want to bite them or hit him – anything. So that in essence was more of our responsibility. We get a lot of the product back that’s stolen, but it’s impossible to catch everybody, especially when they are concealing it in bags. They go out all day, there are four fire exits here, they go right onto the street, right? And it’s hard when security can’t touch them. They can’t touch them. They can’t grab your arm and say ‘Hey, put that back.’ They’d be fired, there would be a lawsuit.”
So if the in-store security is hamstrung by these rules, why aren’t the police tackling these thieves?
According to one officer, “They give us more leeway, but they still don’t want us, again, on the floor tackling somebody for taking like a couple of pairs of pants, right. Stealing $50 worth of merchandise…”
In 2021, Target made $27.3 billion in profit on sales of $93.6 billion, which is a healthy gross margin of 29.3% before expenses such as depreciation and amortization, interest, and taxes, all of which takes the final operating profit down to around 5%. Still a healthy number, but the store on Mission St. already has some of the highest labor and security costs in the entire chain.
Mayor Breed Begs Target to Reconsider
This particular Target is a critical institution for a neighborhood that is already struggling with social ills. Aggressive panhandlers routinely perch outside the entrance. Human feces on the street has gone from a rare shock to disgustingly commonplace. Visitors to Frena, the scrumptious Israeli bakery and café around the corner, now have to be buzzed in like they’re viewing fine jewelry.
And of course, there’s a political component here. The Globe asked the officers why the store hadn’t closed already, since the full-time presence of uniformed PD hadn’t been able to stem the tide.
“The manager told me this a few weeks back, that’s where I got all the numbers from, but you know our mayor, London Breed, everybody would lose their mind, they’ve been very adamant, ‘Do not close this place,’ but Target they don’t care. They are like, they see the numbers, right, and that’s why our boss is like, ‘We will get you whatever you need,’” (meaning that’s why SFPD has provided so many resources to this particular private business).
And still it hasn’t worked. The officers expect the Mission St. Target to close by the end of the year.
According to one officer, “In 2019, Walgreens in San Francisco lost—all Walgreens—lost $25 million in theft. That’s why if you go to every Walgreens pretty much there’s an officer sitting at a Walgreens anywhere you go all over and they are still closing Walgreens, and it’s still the same thing here – the same people, the same daily essential products or whatever. And if you go to 16th and Mission, they have like a fence there, and they sell all of this stuff that they take here. It’s out of control.”
Asked for a final thought on what could possibly reverse course, one officer said, “Got to change the process. The prosecution has to change.” Another chimed in: “It will never change.”
UPDATE (11:40 AM, Oct 22, 2021): A Target spokesperson has reached out to the California Globe to deny aspects of this story and confirm others. According to Joe Poulos, Target’s Senior Director of Communications, “The information posted to California Globe about our stores is not accurate. We are not closing the Mission St. store. I can confirm that Target will close the San Francisco Central Business District East store, 225 Bush St., on Nov. 20, 2021, due to years of underperforming sales.” Mr. Poulos also remarked that “The decision to close a store is always difficult” and said that “Target remains committed to the San Francisco Bay Area and will continue to serve guests at the 35 other Bay Area stores.” This morning, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story echoing much of what Mr. Poulos stated. The Globe has asked Target to comment about shoplifting losses at the Mission St store and stands by its reporting on what it was told by officers on the scene.