“We just can’t last when our downtown is like the Twilight Zone.”

Photo by Kayle Kaupanger on Unsplash.

“Nearly 150 rioters could be seen in the video posted to Facebook dressed in all black or camouflage and wearing ski masks entered the site of Atlanta’s future Public Safety Training Facility — dubbed Cop City by those who protest its development — and immediately set off fireworks,” reported the UK’s Daily Mail on March 5, 2023.

“Just a few moments later, the fireworks start to explode near where cops are stationed,” continued the Daily Mail contributor in a tone of schadenfreude. “Some of the group could later be seen gathering riot shields, as they motioned for others to join them.”

“Once they were together, they started throwing Molotov cocktails at a construction vehicle and ran away as it was left on fire,” the outlet reported. “Other videos posted online showed a police surveillance tower on fire, sending smoke billowing nearby.”

From Atlanta to Portland, high-profile crime is up in many major cities nationwide. Some cities, like Washington D.C., have seen such a precipitous increase in serious crime over the past two years, President Joe Biden recently sided with House Republicans, 30 House Democrats, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser against a bail and sentencing reform law passed by the D.C. city council.

Mayor Bower’s objection to the new law, which lowers the penalty for carjacking among other things, is perhaps understandable in a city that saw 148 carjackings in 2017 and 485 in 2022. Mayor Bowser, unlike city council members, is called to account every time there is a violent incident in D.C.

According to D.C. police chief Robert Contee, the average homicide suspect apprehended in the district is on their 11th arrest. Homicides in D.C. are up 30% in 2023.

Mayor Bowser, like other big city mayors in communities beset by rising crime, is feeling the heat.

From Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who refused to seek reelection after only one term, to one-term Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was defeated in last week’s primary after garnering only a 17% vote, mayors — who are closest to the problem — are bearing the brunt of public dissatisfaction.

Rising crime is a painful problem, and it seems to be growing despite myriad warnings about it emanating from all quarters. Corporate CEOs have certainly been warning about rising crime.

All Portland Walmart stores to permanently close in late March,” reported local affiliate FOX12 Oregon on February 22, 2023. The announcement came on the heels of comments Walmart CEO Doug McMillon made during a CBNC appearance in December 2022.

“Theft is an issue,” McMillon told the news outlet frankly. “It’s higher than it’s historically been.” He warned that prices would rise or stores would be forced to shutter unless local authorities addressed the issue.

“I must say, in my view, at the local, state, and federal level, these governments across the country and leaders, mayors, and governors, city councils, have abdicated their responsibility in fighting crime and addressing mental health,” Starbucks CEO and Democratic Party mega-donor Howard Schultz said in a video tweeted on July 15, 2022, to address Starbucks store closures.

“I don’t have to spend too much time on what’s going on in the country and how America has become unsafe, but you all read the press release the last couple of days about the fact that we are beginning to close stores that are not unprofitable,” Schultz said in a separate video.

“It has shocked me that one of the primary concerns that our retail partners have is their own personal safety,” Schultz continued. “And then we heard the stories about what happens in our bathrooms, the issues with mental illness, homelessness, and crime.”

“Starbucks is a window into America, we have stores in every community,” the Starbucks CEO said. “We are facing things for which the stores were not built. We’re listening to our people and closing stores.”

“This is just the beginning,” he warned. “There are going to be many more.”

“At Target, year-to-date, incremental shortage has already reduced our gross margin by more than $400 million versus last year,” Target CEO Michael Fiddelke told investors and reporters on an earnings call held on November 16, 2022. “And we expect it will reduce our gross margin by more than $600 million for the full year.”

“There’s a handful of things that can drive shrink in our business and theft is certainly a key driver,” said Fiddelke “We know we’re not alone across retail in seeing a trend that I think has gotten increasingly worse over the last 12 to 18 months. So we’re taking the right actions in our stores to help curb that trend where we can, but that becomes an increasing headwind on our business and we know the business of others.”

“Right actions,” in the case of Target and other major retailers, often involve new sophisticated security tagging systems, surveillance, and increased private security.

Small and midsized businesses in benighted areas are suffering the same concerns without the same resources to combat organized retail theft and burglaries, which are often organized by large groups.

In November 2022, retail store Rains PDX permanently closed its doors in downtown Portland. Posted in all-caps on the front door, the owner’s frank goodbye note went viral.

“Thank you to all of the honest and conscientious customers who have supported us (and RAINS.COM) over the last 3 years!” began the farewell. “Rains PDX was a locally-owned small business. But due to the constant and unrelenting criminal behavior, coupled with escalating safety issues for our employees, we have decided to permanently close.”

“Our city is in peril. Small businesses (and large) cannot sustain doing business in our city’s current state,” Rains PDX declared. “We have no protection, or recourse, against the criminal behavior that goes unpunished. Do not be fooled into thinking that insurance companies cover losses. We have sustained 15 break-ins…we have not received any financial reimbursement since the 3rd.”

“Portland has always been known for its thriving and abundant local, independently owned, small businesses,” the owner wrote, “If small businesses are forced out, then our city will have lost a lot of what makes it a unique and desirable place to live. Please do your part to support small businesses. This holiday season, and beyond. Please be vigilant in voting to make our city safe again.”

Margulis Jewelers was another downtown Portland landmark. After 90 years, owner David Margulis made the difficult choice to close permanently in March 2022.

“We just can’t last when our downtown is like the Twilight Zone,” owner David Margulis told the local news outlet helplessly. “There are very few visitors. Downtown is not coming back fast enough. The county government and the city government are talking a lot, but talk isn’t working. They need action and they’ve taken far too long to take action.”

“We’ve got too many mentally ill wandering around, frightening people,” Margulis said. “They need to take action with so many things. Like moving the homeless, or getting city employees and county employees to populate the buildings. This wanton vandalism has got to be prosecuted. There have to be consequences.”

Like Margulis, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler wants city employees to return to work, as a large percentage of the city’s workforce is still remote. But the Mayor is facing a Catch-22: Lack of foot-traffic downtown is part of what is driving rampant crime and vandalism; city employees don’t want to return due to concerns about crime.

While Ted Wheeler, like San Francisco Mayor London Breed, tries to devise a method by which Covid19-furloughed city workers might be enticed to return to in-person work someday, corporations — like Portland small businesses — have already started to take drastic measures.

Until rampant crime is again on the retreat, store closings will continue.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)