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An East Coast grocery chain confirmed that it is attempting to keep its stores open in the midst of rampant retail theft and crime across the United States.
Giant Food, which operates more than 160 locations in several states, is now restricting location entrance points, boosting store security, having fewer high-dollar items on its shelves, and limiting the number of self-checkout items, the company’s chief executive told the Washington Post this week. Those new measures may cause problems for ordinary customers, but Giant Food President Ira Kress said that they’re needed to keep locations open.
Retail theft has increased “tenfold in the last five years,” which is not “an understatement,” and violence has “increased exponentially,” Kress told the paper. “The last thing I want to do is close stores,” he added. “But I’ve got to be able to run them safely and profitably.”
Kress said that the nature of shoplifting has changed and that more retailers are simply allowing it. “We used to chase shoplifters,” Kress said of store security measures. “And you’d get the product back, and nobody would ever fight you.”
Noting that “I didn’t worry about somebody pulling a knife or gun on me  years ago,” Kress stated that he hasn’t had to shut down any Giant Food stores yet.
It comes as several major nationwide chains have opted to close down locations in large cities and outlying urban areas due to widespread retail theft and crime. In recent months, Walmart, Whole Foods, Nike, Kroger, Nordstrom, Old Navy, and Target have said they would shutter locations in places like San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Philadelphia, the District of Columbia, and Portland, Oregon.
An executive with the National Retail Federation, described as the world’s largest trade organization, said that the loss of inventory due to retail theft reached $100 billion last year across the United States. That number is likely to get worse, said the executive, David Johnston, during a Fox Business interview that aired on May 25.
“There have been employees and customers injured,” he told the network. “There have been employees killed while these shoplifting events are taking place,” he added.
In April, for example, an employee at Home Depot in California was shot and killed while trying to stop a shoplifter, according to local reports. The employee, identified as Blake Mohs, tried to stop a female shoplifter, identified as 32-year-old Benicia Knapps, who shot and killed him before she was arrested shortly after.
Meanwhile, an executive with Target—a company that’s dealing with a major boycott—has said it lost about $1 billion due to retail theft alone last year.
“Beyond macroeconomic challenges, we continue to contend with significant headwinds caused by inventory shrink, building on a worsening trend that emerged last year. While shrink can be driven by multiple factors, theft and organized retail crime are increasingly urgent issues, impacting the team, and our guests and other retailers,” Target CEO Brian Cornell told investors and analysts earlier in May.
Cornell added: “The problem affects all of us, limiting product availability, creating a less convenient shopping experience, and put[s] our team and guests in harm’s way. The unfortunate fact is, violent incidents are increasing at our stores and across the entire retail industry. And when products are stolen, simply put, they’re no longer available for guests who depend on them. And left unchecked, theft, and organized retail crime to grade the communities we call home.”
Some analysts said that the companies’ decisions to exit urban areas represent a growing trend.
“For the big box and the grocery [stores], which are trying to optimize a single-digit margin, it is very difficult to operate, and you will see more and more exits happening,” Lakshman Lakshmanan, a senior director in Alvarez & Marsal’s consumer and retail group, told the Post.
In the interview this week, Kress suggested that elected officials are out of touch by attacking retailers for shutting down locations in urban areas.
“It’s laughable for any of our politicians—and I’ve offered to meet and talk with any of them—to be ignorant to what’s going on in their communities, in their jurisdictions, with their constituents,” Kress said. “And for politicians to blame businesses … for leaving is embarrassing.”
More than a month ago, Walmart announced that it would be closing down multiple locations across Chicago due to a variety of issues. The move drew ire from local politicians and residents, who threatened to boycott the big box store.
In a statement, the Benton, Arkansas-based company said that “these stores lose tens of millions of dollars a year, and their annual losses nearly doubled in just the last five years.”
The Epoch Times contacted Giant Foods for comment.