It just became that much tougher to grab a Frappuccino at your neighborhood Starbucks, if your neighborhood is located in one of America’s most crime-plagued cities.
The coffee giant confirmed Wednesday that it will close 16 locations in Washington, D.C., Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon, citing “a high volume of challenging incidents that make it unsafe to continue to operate.”
“We are focused on investing in safe store experiences and empowering our local leaders to put safety first,” said Starbucks in a statement to The Washington Times. “Over the last year, we have seen a dramatic increase in in-store incidents that do not uphold the standards of the Starbucks Experience for our partners or our customers.”
The mocha-maker isn’t alone.
From Walgreens to Wawa, convenience stores known as community cornerstones are shutting their doors amid a surge in shoplifting and vandalism as well as threats to employee security.
The 7-Eleven chain, for example, encouraged franchises in the Los Angeles area to close Tuesday after an overnight crime spree at six locations left two dead and three wounded, KTLA-TV reported.
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As far as conservatives are concerned, the soft-on-crime policies pushed by leftist district attorneys, mayors and city councils bear the brunt of the blame.
“Rising crime in Democrat-run cities is becoming a significant problem for small businesses and our entire economy,” said Alfredo Ortiz, president and CEO of the free-market Job Creators Network.
“Starbucks is just the latest example of a franchise feeling the effects of the crime wave caused by ‘woke’ mayors and prosecutors reducing penalties on criminals,” Mr. Ortiz said.
Hallie Balch, spokesperson for the Republican National Committee in California, also linked the Starbucks closures to progressive Democratic policies, an issue expected to boost GOP fortunes in November.
“Everyone’s favorite coffee store is closing 16 locations across the nation, including California, due to ‘unsafe’ circumstances in the surrounding areas,” she said.
“This seems to be happening a ‘latte’ as Democrats’ soft on crime policies are doing nothing but leaving communities to fend for themselves as incidents are occurring outside stores, drug use is rising, and violence is surging,” she added.
The risks faced by workers were encapsulated this week in the case of 61-year-old Harlem bodega employee Jose Alba, who was charged with stabbing to death 35-year-old Austin Simon after he attacked the clerk in an altercation over a declined credit card.
The incident drew outrage after Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg charged Mr. Alba with second-degree murder and held the elderly Dominican immigrant in the notorious Rivers Island jail.
The United Bodegas of America has urged him to drop the charges.
“Our city is in crisis, and at this point, we are just fed up with people robbing, looting, attacking, assaulting, killing our small-business owners,” said UBA spokesperson Fernando Mateo at a Sunday press conference.
Since the 2020 pandemic lockdown, convenience stores have struggled to keep their doors open as they grapple with one crisis after another.
Urban retailers were targeted in the rioting and looting that accompanied some Black Lives Matter protests.
Some left-wing burgs responded to activists’ demands by cutting police budgets, stoking a retail crime spree even as companies navigated the labor shortage and supply-chain woes.
In San Francisco, Walgreens has closed at least 10 locations since 2019, including five last year, over organized retail theft, SFGate reported.
Last month, Wawa abruptly shuttered its store at the Columbia Heights Metro Station without explanation, although locals cited concerns about recent shootings at the nearby Metro station and shoplifting woes, according to WJLA-TV.
“After careful evaluation, our store at 1400 Irving St., NW, DC has closed as of Monday, June 6,” Wawa told the Washington station. “All associates have been transferred to nearby locations we operate in the city.”
Even before the crime spike, retailers faced challenges from the rise of online shopping.
In November, CVS Health announced it would shutter 900 stores, or 10% of its footprint, attributing the decision to “consumer buying patterns,” not rising crime.
Among the Starbucks outposts slated for closure is the popular location at Union Station in Washington, D.C., which will close its doors permanently at the end of the month.
In a Monday memo to employees, or “partners,” Starbucks senior vice presidents Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelson said that “creating a safe, welcoming, and kind third place is our top priority.”
“You’re also seeing firsthand the challenges facing our communities – personal safety, racism, lack of access to healthcare, a growing mental health crisis, rising drug use, and more,” the memo said. “With stores in thousands of communities across the country, we know these challenges can, at times, play out within our stores too. We read every incident report you file — it’s a lot.”
That wasn’t quite the message conveyed four years ago, when Starbucks opened up its seating and restrooms to non-customers.
The decision was followed by anecdotes of shops besieged by homeless people, not all of whom were law-abiding.
“One of my go-to Starbucks made this list (1st & Los Angeles),” said one commenter in a Wednesday tweet. “I was there often when I worked in [downtown Los Angeles]. More than once I saw some homeless person walk in, take whatever they wanted (drinks, sandwiches) & walk out. Employees [are] not allowed to follow him. Not surprised they’re closing.”
Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz signaled last month that the time had come to revisit the policy.
“We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people,” Mr. Schultz said as reported by the New York Times. “I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open.”
Others accused Starbucks of using the crime issue to subvert a unionization drive, noting that two of the locations in Seattle slated for closure voted recently to join a labor union.
Starbucks Workers United Seattle retweeted Tuesday a photo of a sign from employees posted to the door of the 505 Union store that said: “Starbucks is lying. This is not good faith bargaining, this is union busting.”
Starbucks is lying. They aren’t closing down stores due to safety. They are closing down stores because they don’t want to bargain with organized workers. https://t.co/A7Je5q2bRg
— nikkita oliver (they/them) (@NikkitaOliver) July 13, 2022
In its statement, the company said that in the three unionized stores that are closing, “we will engage in bargaining with the union with the hopes that we reach an agreement that gives all partners the ability to have continuous employment with no changes in benefits or pay or their average hours worked.”
“If we get an agreement, partners will be able to transfer to agreed upon stores,” Starbucks said.
Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said he wasn’t surprised by the store closures, given that police departments are struggling with low morale, hiring and retention.
“Many cities have taken steps to restrict the traditional proactive activities of police, and I think a lot of progressive prosecutors are doing it as well,” Mr. Johnson said.
“They’re making it difficult to prosecute quality of life crimes, and those are the types of crimes that frequently hit small business, like shoplifting, graffiti, trespassing,” he said.
He added that “a small business, if they have the option, they’re going to go to a place with less crime as opposed to an area with high crime or poor police response. That’s just human nature.”
The Retail Industry Leaders Association has urged Congress to pass the INFORM Consumers Act, which would crack down on the sale of stolen and counterfeit goods online.
“There are multiple factors at play here, some of which is the need for a better local response to criminal activity,” said association spokesperson Jason Brewer. “But our larger perspective is the need to tackle the ease of selling stolen goods online. It has put rocket fuel to the problem of organized theft, and it’s happening all over the country and in virtually every retail category.”
— Matt Delaney and Brad Matthews contributed to this report.