Walgreens to Close 5 Stores in San Francisco, Citing ‘Organized’ Shoplifting


One of the stores was targeted at least five times by the same man, who drew widespread attention for raiding the store on a bike and was later arrested, the authorities said.

Walgreens to Close 5 Stores in San Francisco, Citing ‘Organized’ Shoplifting
The closures, scheduled for November, will bring the number of Walgreens stores that have been shuttered in San Francisco in recent years to 22, according to the company. Credit...Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Walgreens to Close 5 Stores in San Francisco, Citing ‘Organized’ Shoplifting

A security guard and a television reporter were recording him, but the thief was undeterred, raiding a Walgreens store in San Francisco on a bicycle, a garbage bag in hand filled with stolen merchandise.

Millions watched a video of the brazen shoplifting in June, which critics said illustrated the epidemic of store thefts that had bedeviled retailers across the city. It was at least the fifth time that the man, who was later arrested on a raft of burglary and theft charges, had targeted that particular Walgreens store, on Gough Street in the Hayes Valley neighborhood, the authorities said.

Now, four months later, Walgreens says it will close that store and four others in San Francisco next month, citing what it described as a continuing problem of “organized” shoplifting in the city.

“Organized retail crime continues to be a challenge facing retailers across San Francisco,” Phil Caruso, a spokesman for Walgreens, said in an email on Wednesday. “Retail theft across our San Francisco stores has continued to increase in the past few months to five times our chain average.”

Walgreens said its San Francisco stores had been targeted by professional thieves who resell the goods they steal, mainly through online marketplaces. The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that law enforcement officials have attributed much of the city’s retail crime to organized theft rings.

In addition to the store at 300 Gough Street, the Walgreens locations that are closing are at 2550 Ocean Avenue; 4645 Mission Street; 745 Clement Street; and 3400 Cesar Chavez Street, the company said.

Walgreens representatives previously said at a board of supervisors hearing in May that it had closed 17 stores, largely because thefts had made doing business at those locations untenable.

Ahsha Safaí, a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors, said on Twitter on Tuesday that the closure of the Walgreens store at 4645 Mission Street would leave a tremendous void.

“I am completely devastated by this news — this Walgreens is less than a mile from seven schools and has been a staple for seniors, families and children for decades,” Mr. Safaí said. The city, he added, “needs to act with a sense of urgency to reduce and deter the number of incidents of commercial retail theft.”

A locked display at a Walgreens store in San Francisco this month. The drugstore chain said its San Francisco stores had been targeted by professional thieves who resell the goods they steal.Credit...Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Walgreens said it had increased its “investments in security measures” at its San Francisco stores “to 46 times our chain average in an effort to provide a safe environment.”

The office of Mayor London Breed of San Francisco did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Chesa Boudin, the San Francisco district attorney, said in an email on Wednesday that, in addition to prosecuting shoplifting cases, the office had been working with the California Highway Patrol and ALTO, an organization that works to address retail theft.

“Our office takes retail theft very seriously and we have taken several steps in the last year to better prevent and prosecute these crimes,” the spokeswoman, Sara Yousuf, said. “Last year, our Retail Theft Taskforce worked with law enforcement partners in an operation that led to the recovery of more than $8 million in stolen items.”

Ms. Yousuf said that the city was making progress in addressing such thefts.

“While larceny rates in San Francisco are lower than they were in 2019, District Attorney Boudin is committed to working every day to make San Francisco even safer,” she said.

A spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department referred questions on the matter to Walgreens.

The closures, which are scheduled for November, will bring the number of Walgreens stores that have been shuttered in San Francisco in recent years to 22, according to the company. Walgreens has more than 50 stores in the city, The Chronicle reported.

Walgreens disclosed in an August 2019 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it would be closing 200 locations in the United States as part of a cost-savings initiative.

Employees at the five San Francisco stores that are closing next month will continue to work at other Walgreens locations, and customers will have their prescriptions transferred to nearby stores, the company said.

On June 19, the San Francisco Police Department said that it had arrested the man in the shoplifting video that was recorded at the Walgreens location on Gough Street. Investigators said that they connected the man, Jean Lugo-Romero, 40, to a string of thefts from merchants in the Northern and Mission districts.

Mr. Lugo-Romero faces robbery and burglary charges in connection with five separate occasions in which he targeted the Walgreens store on Gough Street, including on four consecutive days in late May and early June, the authorities said.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Lugo-Romero had a lawyer. The San Francisco Public Defender’s office in San Francisco did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.