When Steven Lien first set out to create his store in the heart of Portland, the landscape looked very different. There were no gates at the entrance. The shop owner Lien claimed, “We weren’t worried about our windows being broken.” “And shoplifting was something that rarely happened.”
Today, however, he would have to disagree. “We’ve gone through a lot,” Lien said. “I actually put my hand in my pocket. Make sure my mace is available. I go to steel gates, and I have to open them with a key.”
Lien has company. According to a poll conducted by Business.org, most small firms expect shoplifting to increase next year. To Lien, “We’ve gone up 800%” to Scripps News. As the business owner said, “The changes are stark, and there are things that I didn’t expect when I opened a small business so many years ago.”
It’s not limited to local mom-and-pop shops in Portland. The National Retail Federation estimates that this nationwide issue will cost businesses $94 billion by 2021. The NRF claims that organized retail criminality is the problem’s heart.
54% of small businesses in 2021 reportedly saw an increase in shoplifting, according to a tweet-
“These are criminal enterprises that organize, plan, and orchestrate groups of shoplifters who steal often and in large quantities,” said David Johnston, NRF’s vice president of asset security and retail operations.
The average loss due to organized crime for retailers in 2020 was over $700,000 per $1 billion in sales, according to a poll by the National Retail Federation (NRF). This figure is up over 50% from 2015.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently urged lawmakers to take action against the online sale of stolen goods.
“These crimes are not victimless. In addition to the growing number of thefts that turn violent, innocent consumers, employees, local communities, and business owners and shareholders bear the costs of rising retail theft,” the letter reads.
“25% of small businesses report raising prices as a result of shoplifting. Some retailers have been forced to shutter locations in response to rampant theft.” Lien is still trying to wrap his head around the fact that REI, a popular outdoor gear retailer in Portland’s Pearl District, will close sometime in early 2024.
REI’s top brass admitted to consumers in a letter: “Last year, REI Portland had its highest number of break-ins and thefts in two decades, despite actions to provide extra security.” “When I see the big box stores pulling up roots, and whether it’s a Walmart or REI or even a Nike store closing, it’s a knife in the heart,” Lien said.
“I am really needing the big guys to step up and back up my back because I’m already stepping up and doing what needs to be done in the community. There’s a lot of inventory in the store. It’s my retirement. It’s personal. So it does hurt when I see them give up. When we’re still on the frontlines fighting. I need them to fight too.”
Companies have felt the pinch from more than just retail losses. We’ve had three large windows smashed in and merchandise stolen through the glass. “The cost to replace each of my windows is just over $4,500,” Lien said, adding that such costs must be passed on to customers in many situations.
Adding security features like gates, guards, and cameras comes at an additional cost. Some larger stores are hoarding commonplace products like coffee and deodorant. NRF’s Johnston states, “This impacts the consumer as much as it does the retailer.” “There are a lot of factors that have contributed to this the past couple of years.”
Here are the most current developments in Portland as we know them:
Some people blame inflation for the increased value of stolen items. Others argue that the widespread availability of online marketplaces facilitates the sale of stolen goods by criminals. The National Retail Federation attributes some of the increase to lax prosecution of criminals.
Together with his community, Lien finds hope that many states have recently approved laws increasing the severity of penalties for theft.
“It’s dozens and dozens of small businesses that get together, and we share our stories, and we’ve solved the problems together,” Lien added. “It’s those levels of community that is really where my hope comes from. That and, of course, an amazing staff because they’ve been with me a long time. We’re all in this together.”
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