It should be possible to operate a retail store in one of America’s largest and most prestigious cities, but this most basic commercial proposition is in doubt in San Francisco.
The then Golden City is engulfed by an ongoing tide of piracy that is shutting down retail locations and again demonstrating the city’s reluctance to control itself.
Cities across the country call themselves the “capital” of this or that signature product—artichokes in Castroville, California, earmuffs in Farmington, Maine, spinach in Alma, Ark., fried chicken in Barberton, Ohio.
San Francisco, and the larger Bay Area, can now easily lay claim to the title of Shoplifting Capital of the USA—should that respect.
The viral video of the shameless theft has become one of the city’s most influential cultural exports.
Hey, look — 80 people engaged in a Nordstrom’s massive rob-and-grab robbery in Walnut Creek outside San Francisco last weekend, one of a series of jaw-dropping thefts over the past several days, including Including an operation that cleaned out Louis Vuitton on San Francisco’s Union Square.
Check it out – people walking out of Neiman Marcus are running into waiting cars with fancy handbags.
You won’t believe it – this guy loads merchandise from Walgreens into a big trash bag and jumps on his bike, walks down the aisle and out of the store.
These are not episodic crimes. Walgreens says its San Francisco stores experience levels of theft five times National average. As a result, the chain is constantly switching places. It has already closed 17 and announced five more closures last month, including one killed by a man on a bike (who was eventually arrested after robbing the store several times).
Target and Safeway are reducing the hours to try to limit the risk of theft of their locations.
Stores often keep the choice of toothpaste and shampoo behind security locks, as if they are high-end goods or outlets operating in Caracas, Venezuela.
The shoplifting problem represents a deliberate choice rather than an unstoppable tide. Modern societies long ago figured out how to maintain civil order so that law-abiding people could buy and sell goods without being systematically victimized by thieves. It’s just that the Bay Area has chosen to forget.
In 2014, California adopted Proposition 47, which made theft of $950 or less a felony. Once people realized they were unlikely to be arrested or prosecuted for theft of less than $1,000, they certainly responded with encouragement. For their part, stores advise employees not to interfere with shoppers so they don’t get hurt. Many crimes are not even registered.
And so it is open season for people to take whatever they want.
New York City famously re-established the order in the 1990s based on a focus on “broken windows” policing, or crimes that reduce quality of life; San Francisco and similar places engage in neglect of “broken windows”—broken windows at high-end stores that have been hit by robbers.
It’s a politics deciding that it’s more important to keep your hand than arresting and jailing criminals to save businesses from being robbed, to protect duly employed people from flouting the law, and to neighborhoods losing retail outlets. To save from what they depend on. Feather.
San Francisco’s stance is not exactly anti-business. No, it is, in fact, to privilege one business model over another. On the one hand, there are legitimate businesses that buy their goods and sell them in a legal market transaction. On the other hand, there are organized crime rings that oversee the theft of large amounts of goods that are exchanged and sold online.
The former model must be given to the environment to thrive, the latter must be dusted. A rational society knows this, and maybe one day San Francisco will too.