Retail Rip-Offs: Richard Swerdlow

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

Richard Swerdlow witnesses what many others call a common occurrence – retail rip-offs.

It was a quick run to pick up a few things, to one of those national chain drugstores found in every neighborhood in San Francisco. As I browsed shaving cream, a man in the cosmetics aisle began shoving items into a backpack. Body wash, skin creams, shampoos, entire shelves quickly emptied.

I stared as he filled his bag. “Are you going to pay for that, Sir?" shouted a store clerk, as the man sauntered out, to alarms blaring. I asked the clerk if that happened often.

"Every day," he said.

Every day must be right, because everyone I know has a story of seeing a flagrant five-finger discount in this drugstore. Last month, a video of a guy riding a bicycle into one of these drugstores, filling a trash bag with goods and peddling out without bothering to pay, went viral. With a shoplifting rate four times the national average, this drugstore chain is closing stores in San Francisco.


And not just this drugstore chain. Other retailers in San Francisco are also reporting such brazen theft, they are reducing store hours or shuttering locations. Some say the pandemic economic crisis has caused this rise in rip-offs. Others blame Proposition 47 for reducing shoplifting of less than $950 to a misdemeanor.

But I feel for employees, with both crazed crooks risking their safety and store closures risking their jobs.

My surreal drugstore run added to the zombie apocalypse feel of the city these days. On my way to the drugstore, I passed boarded-up shops, raggedy people sleeping on sidewalks, and stepped around one wild-eyed guy shouting at unseen voices. The scariest side effect of a prescription turns out to be just going into the drugstore to buy it.

Crime is a result of many factors, and drugstores don’t sell a cure for this epidemic of shoplifting. I don't have the answers, either.

But I do know I might think twice before another quick run to pick up a few things.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.