In San Francisco, dealing with theft

A hardware store owner weighs in on a recent retail crime spree.
a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera
"Shoplifting is a huge issue for locally owned retailers," said Rick Karp, owner, Cole Hardware, with five urban store locations in San Francisco.

Shoplifting has hit some retailers in the city of San Francisco. Several Walgreens stores, for example, are closing their doors in the city.

But how is this threat affecting hardware stores in San Francisco?

“Fortunately, independent retailers have not been targeted thus far,” Rick Karp, owner of Cole Hardware, told HBSDealer.

His business has five urban hardware stores in San Francisco, and one in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland.

“Shoplifting has always been an issue in retail. It’s probably higher in small, urban stores, as the sight lines are limited with merchandise being stacked to the ceiling in every aisle,” Karp said.

Walgreens and some of the other similar chains have been hit hard as they seem to be targeted by theft rings. An Oct. 14 article in the New York Times reported that Walgreens will close five stores in San Francisco next month following a rash of crimes. Walgreens has seen retail theft surge in San Francisco to five times the chain average, a spokesman told the newspaper.  Much of those losses are at the hands of organized theft rings, according to the article.

a group of people walking down the street in front of a store
Cole Hardware's Fox downtown San Francisco store.

“Due to the nature of our products, power tools are locked up,” he related. “Security cases house much of our tool departments, hooks are locked.”

But his overall concern was for the safety of his staff.

He also pointed out that it is difficult for the police to respond to petty shoplifting incidences unless they are violent.

“Given the lack of response from the police, the thieves are emboldened,” Karp said. “This is a huge issue for locally owned retailers across the board.”

He said that theft at all levels is growing, as much a result of the pandemic and what it has done to people’s lives. He noted that blaming retail closings on organized theft is convenient, and makes for an attention-grabbing story, but he’s not sure it’s the whole story.

“Shoplifting is an ugly fact of life for us," he said. "While I’m sure some of the product is fenced, most of the shoplifting seems to be for individual use."

Karp noted that Cole Hardware was originally purchased by his dad in 1961. “My kids are taking over the business as third-generation owners, and my son David is now president of Cole Hardware.”