Retail theft on the rise and NYC small business owners paying the price

Someone broke through the front door overnight and tore open the safe. The new security gates cost $2,300. The streets became quieter after four neighboring businesses closed permanently during the pandemic, embarrassing merchants. Two security guards quit.

For Deborah Koenigsberger, who has worked in retail for three decades, opening her two clothing stores in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood has never felt so exhausting.

“As small businesses, we are getting hit hard in many ways,” Ms. Koenigsberger said. “I can also leave the store open and say, ‘Help yourself.'”

Her stores are among businesses in New York City that are grappling with a surge in crime due to disruptions over the past two years. The pandemic has exacerbated job loss, mental illness and drug abuse, which law enforcement officials and business owners say has contributed to increasingly brazen behavior by people going into neighborhood stores, from stealing to assault.

The debate over the underlying causes also centered on New York’s bail laws, on police forces distracted by an increase in mass shootings and on online marketplaces where organized retail groups can easily sell stolen goods.

As the city emerges from the public health crisis, officials say a sense of security is crucial to the city’s economic recovery.

According to the New York Police Department, last year, retail theft complaints were about 16% higher than in 2019. But the arrest rate has dropped, with about 28% of complaints leading to cases. arrests last year, compared with 48.5% in 2019.

The major crime index, which includes murder and felony assault, rose 7.5% in the same period, but was still lower last year than in 2015.

Although New York remains one of the safest major cities in America, one poll released this month of Quinnipiac University found that 74 percent of voters believe crime is a “very serious” problem.

Safety concerns can affect an employee’s willingness to go to work, whether the workplace is investment banking or bodega. Some small businesses close earlier at night because workers are afraid to come home late.

Attempts to find a solution have led to a fierce debate about how much control and detention should be part of the answer. In interviews, some workers said they didn’t want to call the police, fear retaliation by violators, or believe that the police couldn’t do much to prevent the problem.

The city’s new mayor, Eric Adams, is campaigning to tightening state bail laws, which was amended in 2019, allowing many people who have been arrested to go free while their cases are pending. Law enforcement officials blame the changes for making it harder to hold certain defendants, like mass thieves, after being caught.

“We can’t have a city where our pharmacies, bodegas and restaurants leave because people are going into the stores, taking whatever,” Mr. Adams told the State Legislature recently. whatever they want on the shelf and go out,” Mr. Adams told the State Legislature recently.

Left-leaning lawmakers accused Mr. Adams of fear, pointing out that crime in New York remains near historic lows and judges can still bail in many cases. “Communities are safer when they have more resources, not when they are overwhelmed,” said Gustavo Rivera, a Democratic senator representing the Bronx.

Preliminary state data on recidivism shows that about 2 percent of people released on bail have been reassigned before trial for a violent felony. However, the data is incomplete and lacks detail, making it difficult to assess the impact of the reforms.

Caught in the political battle are the city’s small businesses, which are already facing lower traffic and labor shortages.

The matter received particular attention in Manhattan, where Alvin Bragg, the new district attorney, formed a task force to focus on prevent theft and theft. It was announced after Mr. Bragg has been criticized by business leaders and police officials to issue a memorandum on taking a more lenient approach to prosecutions.

According to interviews with small business workers, in Manhattan, home to the city’s largest share of employment, the neighborhoods that are struggling the most include those that depend on commuters first. pandemics and areas with high concentrations of drug treatment centers.

At some drugstore chains, even cheap items are locked. Business owners say that risk of physical injury and the modest value of stolen goods is often not worth the effort to prevent theft.

The Police Department says one reason the arrest rate for retail thefts has dropped is because there is a growing number of thefts at stores that don’t have security guards ready to detain thieves. steal.

During the pandemic, organized groups across the country are also increasingly targeting retailers, stealing large quantities of merchandise for resale online.

According to Joseph Lorenzo, owner of Macson Shoes, a 45-year-old store in Washington Heights, shoplifting, a longstanding problem for small businesses. He said many of the people who entered his store appeared to be high on drugs or mentally unstable.

“The fear and unpredictability of violent people is what scares us the most,” Mr. Lorenzo said.

With police officials focused on preventing an increase in gun violence, many small business owners feel they have left to fend for themselves.

Last summer, a man walked into Monkey Cup, a Venezuelan cafe in Harlem, asking for free coffee, according to Laura Leonardi, a co-owner. After receiving one, he began arguing with her husband Leonardi and punched him in the face, the video showed. The man then punched Ms. Leonardi after she jumped off the counter. He fled before the police arrived.

In November, another man walked in naked while a child was in the store, refusing to leave. Two months later, he came back and smashed a stool to pieces.

Two weeks ago, this man kept walking in, until a bartender pointed him to a police officer who happened to be in the cafe. The man was arrested, a sight Ms. Leonardi described as “appalling in every way.”

“I find it contradictory,” she said. “To put him in jail, you can turn him into something worse.”

The consequences of a robbery can be a financial burden for small businesses, even if the amount stolen is small.

Julia Larock was working at Blue Marble Ice Cream, an ice cream shop on the Upper West Side, in November when a man showed up twice in three days claiming to have a gun and demanding money. He took a total of 32 dollars. Each time, the store closed for the day due to police fingerprinting and employee interviews.

The suspect, 31-year-old Joshua Tirado, was arrested and a judge released him without bail on 11 November. He returned to the store a few days later. Even though he just looked around and left, Miss Larock felt targeted and quit.

“You don’t know how the situation will escalate,” said Ms. Larock, who now works at a start-up that advertises artworks.


Mr. Tirado was re-arrested in December and charged with stealing jewelry from a Macy’s in Midtown. According to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, prosecutors want supervised release, which would release him without bail but with registration and a potential referral to social services.

A judge disagreed with prosecutors’ request, placing $15,000 on bail. But Mr Tirado was released within a week without any supervision when prosecutors failed to produce the documents needed to keep him in jail.

A spokesman for the Legal Aid Association, which represents Mr Tirado, said his case “highlights the need for more comprehensive services”.

Angel Valdez, another Blue Marble employee, worries that letting people shop will make the store more vulnerable. But he was also threatened when he tried to stop someone from stealing his shirt.

Mr Valdez, who has a second job as a restaurant waiter, said: “I have no luxury in leaving this job even though every day I fear what is to come.

In addition to the financial loss, employees face the anxiety of returning to work after a traumatic incident.

Abdul Alhirsh has been having trouble sleeping since a man walked into his smoothie shop last month shortly after 6pm, pulled what looked like a handgun from his pocket and demanded money. . Mr. Alhirsh froze and gave him everything in the cashier’s box, about 500 dollars.

It was the first armed robbery that Alhirsh had experienced in 13 years working behind the counter at Health King, near Times Square.

Corey Samerson, 23, was arrested in the burglary and charged with at least three other armed robberies in Manhattan in early January.

Mr. Samerson has just spent nearly four years in federal prison for a string of similar armed robberies. At sentencing in 2019, he told the court he had pledged to pay for the drugs.

In a letter to the judge in 2019, Samerson’s mother said she pleaded with everyone – from the church’s youth leaders to Samerson’s probation officer – to help him rehab. drugs, anger problems, and suicidal thoughts.

“I am here with a young man who has a lot of potential but is calling for help,” she wrote, “and has no resources at all.”

In the current case, Mr. Samerson, who is still in custody, was ordered medical treatment by a judge last month. His attorney declined to comment.

As Mr. Alhirsh was recovering from that robbery, he was attacked again. Earlier this month, he ran out of the store to stop someone who had stolen a bottle of coconut water. The man’s accomplice shoved him onto the sidewalk, according to video footage. It was around 9pm, and there was no one around to help. Mr. Alhirsh stood up, his hands bleeding profusely, and returned to the shop.

Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Jonah E. Bromwich contribution report. Retail theft on the rise and NYC small business owners paying the price

Fry Electronics Team

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