SF Safeway adds barriers to deter shoplifting amid Bay Area retail theft debate


“This Safeway is getting weirder and stranger,” one shopper muttered as he passed the newly installed security gates at the entrance to the grocery store near the Castro district in San Francisco.

Automatic doors, added to the Safeway at 2020 Market Street, allow customers to enter the store easily but close quickly behind them, preventing potential thieves from rushing in with shopping carts full of stolen items.

The supermarket has also added barriers around its self-checkout area, channeling customers to a single exit. Unmanned checkout aisles are blocked off with large physical barriers rather than a simple cord, and the entire side entrance to the store has been closed and blocked off by a large display of plastic water bottles.

Safeway executives said the new security measures were a response to what they say is an increase in shoplifting on premises.

“Like other local businesses, we are working on ways to reduce the escalation of theft to ensure the well-being of our employees and foster a welcoming environment for our customers. Their safety remains our top priority, ”said Wendy Gutshall, director of public and government affairs for Safeway’s Northern California division, in an emailed statement. “These long-planned safety enhancements were implemented with these goals in mind.”

The company did not respond to questions about its plans to deploy security gates and other anti-shoplifting measures at other stores in San Francisco or the Bay Area.

Safeway’s move comes after the same market cut its hours in October – now closing at 9 p.m., the first of the chain’s San Francisco locations – again due to shoplifting, the store said. . It also comes amid a fierce public debate over retail theft and property crime in San Francisco, as large chain stores such as Walgreens and Target close stores or cut hours due to an alleged increase in thefts, and after Bay Area stores suffered a spate of high-profile armed robberies in November.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Friday the sentencing of five people involved in organized retail crime targeting retailers such as CVS, Target and Walgreens in the Bay Area in 2020.

San Francisco supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose neighborhood includes Market Street Safeway, said thefts from the store were “out of control” and “absolutely” on the rise.

Recent analyzes of shoplifting data at Walgreens by The Chronicle and SFGate found that existing data does not support the claim that shoplifting was the only factor leading to its closure. stores, especially since the chain announced before the pandemic that it would close 19 outlets. The Chronicle also found that San Francisco lacks reliable data on shoplifting.

Mandelman said he recently met with San Francisco Police and Safeway to troubleshoot the Market Street store. He said he wasn’t surprised by the improved security measures – they’re consistent with what the company said it would do, he said.

“They reluctantly do it because it makes the experience less enjoyable for customers,” he said, “but they feel they have to.”

But on a Saturday morning visit to the Market Street location, most shoppers weren’t disturbed by the changes, many barely aware of. Several added that, if anything, the security changes have improved the shopping experience.

Customer Rosa Estrella said she barely noticed the new doors and didn’t mind them being there.

“It kind of gives the impression that you’re more organized, with who comes in and who goes out,” she said, glancing around the store to look at them again after stepping out. “We feel safe. “

Franklin Heng also said the doors made the store look and feel “more organized,” but the security really didn’t change his experience much. “I feel safe, but I have never felt particularly unsafe here either,” he said.

Another customer, Beth Spradley, said the increased security hasn’t hindered her shopping experience at all – “certainly not as much as a theft,” she said. Like Heng, she said that although it made her feel more secure, she had “never felt in danger” before.

“I feel bad that society has to do this, it’s a culture that’s fine in San Francisco,” she added, but “it didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t even bother. really noticed.

While it remains to be seen how well the new barriers will work, similar steps have been taken in stores across Europe. In the UK, a supermarket called it an “extreme method” but “very effective”, according to the Mirror.

Doors and gates are far from the Safeway’s only security measures – like many other retailers in the city, the store has long had guards at the entrance and keeps items like toiletries, air fresheners , candles and alcohol locked behind plexiglass. barriers, requiring customers to ring a button for a member of staff to retrieve items.

On Saturday, the store appeared to have more guards as well – both entering and roaming the store, muttering into walkie-talkies as customers jostled each other, paying almost no attention to them. Sometimes security guards had to stop customers at the front door to remind them to wear a mask when shopping.

But the doors, which normally opened for one customer at a time, were ajar on Saturday. A guard explained that the doors, which operate automatically, were stuck in the open position.

Guards remained nearby to compensate.

Danielle Echeverria and Andy Picon are the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: danielle.echeverria@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @DanielleEchev Email: andy.picon@hearst.com Twitter: @andpicon


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