Walgreens to Close 5 More Stores in San Francisco

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People walk out of a Walgreens store.
Customers leave a Walgreens store on Gough Street in San Francisco on Oct. 13, 2021. This store closed in mid-November. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Drugstore chain Walgreens plans to close five of its San Francisco stores next month, claiming rampant theft as the primary reason.

"Due to ongoing organized retail crime, we have made the difficult decision to close five stores across San Francisco," a Walgreens spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday. "Retail theft across our San Francisco stores has continued to increase in the past few months to five times our chain average."

The announcement comes as a blow to a city grappling to shed its reputation for being plagued by widespread and brazen shoplifting — despite recent reports showing a drop in retail theft.

The stores slated for closure include:

  • 2550 Ocean Ave.
  • 4645 Mission St.
  • 745 Clement St.
  • 300 Gough St.
  • 400 Cesar Chavez St.

Walgreens said it would transfer all pending drug prescriptions at the closing stores to its other stores within a mile away, and "expect[s] to place the stores’ team members in other nearby locations."

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Some observers, however, are questioning the company's motivations, pointing to a July report on public safety from the San Francisco Police Department showing that thefts, including those at retail stores, have actually dropped by 9% compared to the same time last year.

"Not every crime is reported, but we can only go by what we know: It's been a steady decrease," SFPD Police Chief Bill Scott said in July.

Scott said a stream of recent viral videos and news coverage of crime in San Francisco are contributing to a false perception of lawlessness and have furthered the liberal city’s image as being soft on crime.

"The statistics are counter to the narrative," he said.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston, whose district includes the 300 Gough St. location, suggested the store closures might actually be part of the company's previously announced national consolidation plan, rather the result of retail theft.

"This store serves important needs of neighborhood residents. Media reports have accepted without analysis Walgreens' assertion that it's closing due to retail theft," Preston tweeted. "So is Walgreens closing stores because of theft or because of a pre-existing business plan to cut costs and increase profits by consolidating stores and shifting customers to online purchases?"

In an August 2019 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Walgreens announced its intentions to shutter roughly 200 stores across the U.S. as a cost-savings measure. The company did not, however, reveal the locations it was considering.

A Walgreens spokesperson told KPIX on Wednesday that those cuts had already been made prior to this week's announcement.

Walgreens has already closed at least 10 stores in the city since the start of 2019, according to SF Gate, which first reported the newest round of closures. Among them was the 790 Van Ness Ave. location, in the Tenderloin neighborhood, which the company shuttered in October 2020, after saying it was losing up to $1,000 every day in stolen merchandise, the company told The San Francisco Chronicle.

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San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safai called the planned store closures a major hit to children, families and seniors, particularly residents with lower incomes in his district, many of whom rely on Walgreens for their prescription medications and other basic necessities.

"I am completely devastated by this news. This closure will significantly impact this community," Safai said of the Mission Street store, in the Excelsior neighborhood, which he represents. "This Walgreens is less than a mile from seven schools and has been a staple for families and children for decades."

Safai recently proposed legislation that he hopes will reduce theft and prevent more stores from closing, and said he has been working directly with Walgreens and other retailers on the issue.

His legislation would amend the city's administrative code to allow sheriff's deputies to contract with businesses, private events and community benefits districts to provide security. Private companies would pay the deputies' overtime at no cost to taxpayers.

"The city needs to act with a sense of urgency to reduce and deter the number of incidents of commercial retail theft," Safai said.

In a statement, San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto said he supported the legislation.

"Our office and members support the legislation that will allow for [sheriff's office] staff to have a presence in stores and businesses to keep everyone safe and reduce opportunities to commit crimes," he said. "It is important to help keep stores in our community for access not just to retail outlets, but pharmacies and medical services they host or provide."

Safai also has convened a commercial retail theft working group, which includes Police Chief Scott and District Attorney Chesa Boudin, to make policy recommendations.

Last month, Scott and Mayor London Breed announced a series of new initiatives to address retail theft, including expanding the police department's retail crime unit, recruiting more retired police officers to patrol neighborhoods and making it easier to report shoplifting.

"We care about criminal justice reform. We care about second chances. We care about making sure that people are not wrongly accused," said Breed in announcing the new measures. "But don’t take our kindness for weakness, our compassion for weakness."

This post includes reporting from KQED's Matthew Green, Bay City News and The Associated Press.