Locals responded to the imminent closure of a Walgreens store plagued by frequent shoplifting by launching a petition urging the corporation to keep the store open. It is set to close on March 17.
The store, located at 1300 Bush St. at the corner of Larkin Street in the Tenderloin neighborhood, recently posted signs telling customers about its closing and that all prescription information would be transferred to another Walgreens, located three blocks away at 1524 Polk St.
The Bush Street Walgreens “has become a lifeline for many seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income residents who cannot go further out to other stores to get what they need. The other Walgreens that is 3 blocks away is not handicapped accessible and cannot accommodate people with disabilities,” according to the petition.
“Walgreens Corp. has an annual revenue of around $139.5 billion,” the petition says. “We think they can afford to keep needed stores like this open.”
Walgreens media representatives did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
The store reported at least 18 shoplifting, robbery and burglary incidents to the San Francisco Police Department between September and December of 2020, according to police data. In a handful of incidents, thieves brandished knives or other weapons, or assaulted an employee or guard. In many cases, they stole merchandise valued under $950, which is the threshold at which shoplifting becomes a felony charge.
San Francisco resident Sebastian Luke, who has made it a personal crusade to save San Francisco’s Walgreens stores from closures, said the Bush Street location has increased its security in response to frequent thefts. It hired a security guard and keeps many items, including toothpaste and allergy medicine, in locked cabinets, he said.
Losing neighborhood drugstores can make it more difficult for neighbors to pick up medications or get necessary vaccinations.
This past winter, as more Americans were encouraged to get flu shots amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Walgreens reported “unprecedented demand” for those vaccinations. And, as the Covid-19 vaccine becomes more available in San Francisco, six Walgreens stores — at 2550 Ocean Ave., 4645 Mission St., 825 Market St., 2120 Polk St., 498 Castro St., and 5300 Third St. — will soon be administering Covid-19 vaccinations, according to a spokesperson at San Francisco’s COVID Command Center.
“In the middle of a pandemic and crisis, we cannot allow profit driven greedy Corporations to further traumatize and abandon their responsibility to the community. People over Profits! Especially during the worst crisis we’ve faced in a generation. Shame on Walgreens,” San Francisco resident Curtis Bradford wrote when he signed the petition.
In 2019 and 2020, seven Walgreens stores have closed, including the one at 16th and Mission streets, some as part of the company’s plan to shutter a number of locations across the country. But the Walgreens at Van Ness and Eddy closed because it was losing more than $1,000 a day to shoplifters, according to the Chronicle.
Many Walgreens stores across the city are facing rampant shoplifting, prompting the San Francisco District Attorney’s office to begin working with loss-prevention consultants at the ALTO Alliance to prosecute the most serious repeat offenders. They’re working with some of the hardest-hit stores in the city, including the one at 1300 Bush St., to identify and issue arrest warrants for those suspects, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Donahue said.
Walgreens reportedly takes a hands-off approach to shoplifting. Interfering with a would-be shoplifter can lead to assaults, injuries and insurance liability; instead, employees are encouraged to call the police only after suspects have left the store, according to their posts on Reddit.
“We’re supposed to wait until they leave the store to notify police, but what good does this do with no identifying information and a shitty camera system?” asked a Walgreens store manager posting under the name Nerdspice. “Why even try? I’m just struggling.”
Identifying and locating shoplifters is tough, largely because the suspects are long gone by the time officers arrive, Donahue said. However, some shoplifters return so often that Walgreens employees learn their names. That information, combined with security footage, helps identify potential suspects, he said.
Luke said he doesn’t expect the petition over the 1300 Bush St. Walgreens to make a difference. “I don’t believe that the petition will help [change] Walgreens’ mind,” he said. “According to the Walgreens employees I know well, the decision has been made by the corporate office.”