Blink and you’ll miss it. A figure weaving through the crowd on Mission Street brushes past a tomato display, skirts a box of mangoes on the sidewalk and continues past the avocadoes toward the rest of his day. What you didn’t see was each flick of the wrist that slid the items into his pocket as he hurried past.
However, you aren’t likely to miss Juan Medrano’s shouts as he runs through the door of Loma Produce, hollering in a mixture of English and Spanish for the culprit to return the pilfered produce.
“Sometimes I lose nearly $30 in a day. If I see someone taking my fruit, I run after them until I get them to give it back,” Medrano said.
Most grocers in the Mission agree that while keeping a portion of their produce on storefront sidewalks entices customers and increases limited merchandising space, it also guarantees that merchandise will be stolen daily by those passing by.
With each instance of theft amounting to just a few dollars lost, at least six grocers in the Mission agreed they would never call the police to report a few stolen apples. Instead, they do what they can to get the fruit back.
“I ask to see a receipt if I see someone walking off with fruit in their hand,” said Enrique Hernandez of El Medina Produce.
“Sometimes they want to fight me over the fruit, they try to hit me,” Medrano said. “No one has been able to hit me yet, though, and I usually get it back.”
That’s only if Medrano happens to notice the shoplifter from his position behind the cash register inside the store.
One Mission Street grocer has angled a mirror on the ceiling so he can keep a closer eye on his customers while they browse his produce. The grocer, who declined to give his name, said he works hard to memorize the faces of his most troublesome customers.
There are as many strategies for dealing with fruit theft as there are grocery stores, but Abdo Sharhan, manager of Mi Ranchito, may be alone in the exercise of his particular brand of justice.
“I usually just stand here and let them take it. I don’t really care if someone grabs something from outside just to eat it. What am I going to do? Call the police? Chase after them?”
He prefers to look the other way when customers occasionally slip an extra pear or two into their bags. Trying to make it a legal matter is just too much trouble, he said.
Sharhan draws a moral line, however, when thieves take more than just a quick snack from his store, saving his confrontations for the bulk shoplifters.
“I watched one lady fill two huge bags with corn and avocadoes and then just turn around and start walking,” he said.
Irritated by the woman’s audacity, Sharhan ran after her, demanding she return the stolen produce.
“She acted like it was no big deal. She just tossed me the bags and kept right on going.”