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California's 40th District

Sep 24, 2022 | In The News, Small Business

Small business owners in California used to leave their doors open and kept their displays full of their products. Now, many are keeping the doors locked during the day and keeping all of their valuables off the sales floor.

The retail industry for the last five years has been in steady decline with a 1.5% shrink rate. However, between 2021 and 2020, there was a $4 billion difference in sales lost, according to the 2022 National Retail Foundations’ Security Survey.

Organized retail crime, including professional shoplifting, has increased dramatically since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and is regarded as the source of the decline. A recent focus of retail crime that has plagued small business owners in recent years is “smash and grab” crimes.

Last month, David Hayman Jewelers, located in Yorba Linda, California, was the victim of a smash and grab in which the store’s windows and door were smashed into and display cases were shattered, according to the owner, David Hayman.

The incident caused Hayman to rethink his business operations.

Now, his display cases are made with plastic inlays, and the sample jewelry pieces are not made with precious metals. If someone were to steal them, Hayman said, they would have no value. Furthermore, he is considering buying another safe to store more of his inventory.

“As a group, we’re always trying to overcome the next attack,” he said. “When it’s all done, we can’t do business for months, sometimes … it’s very stressful for a small family business like ours.”

Tara Riceberg owns two stores, one in Los Angeles and one in Beverly Hills, California. She says each store, despite selling the same products, could not have a more different atmosphere.

“Even though my stores are one mile apart, I’m in two different cities with two different governments, with two different crime rates,” Riceberg said.

Los Angeles, since 2018, has been the top city in the United States consistently affected by organized retail crime, specifically pertaining to violence, shoplifting, and “smash and grabs.”

While Riceberg has never been a personal victim of smash and grabs, she has witnessed countless attacks on neighbors, causing her to lock her front door even when the store is open during the day. Luckily, she said, she inherited gates on the windows of her LA storefront when she took over from the previous owner.

Riceberg’s business, Best Gift Store Ever, does not sell flashy merchandise such as Chanel bags or jewelry displayed in the front windows at either location, she said, which prevents people from attempting to smash and grab.

“What does impact my business is the crime around my shop,” she said.

Crime in Los Angeles differs greatly from crime in Beverly Hills. In Los Angeles, Riceberg said the main source of crime comes from the homeless population and mentally ill people, while her Beverly Hills store and its neighbors tend to see more armed robbery.

However, law enforcement officers in Beverly Hills have taken steps to crack down on crime, using CCTV cameras, automatic license plates, and drones to monitor businesses in real time.

While Riceberg said it can feel a bit intrusive at times to have drones watching her street, she said she feels a lot safer knowing that drones are recording and providing surveillance for police.

“Obviously, there needs to be long-term solutions, right?” she said. “We need to figure out how to plug the dam and deal with the spill, but we can’t deal with the spill until we plug the dam.”

She added that governmental agencies, particularly in Los Angeles, should look at Beverly Hills as an example to measure their response to crime.

“People should be reaching out to the city of Beverly Hills to say, ‘What are you doing that you are getting it right?’” she said.

Several Republicans on the House Small Business Committee have been working on the issue of small business retail crime, including Rep. Young Kim (R-CA), whose district is one of many experiencing high levels of “smash and grab” crime.

The issue is very close to home for her, maybe more so than her fellow committee members, she said, as it seems that every other week, there is another business within her district that is victimized, such as David Hayman Jewelers.

“They’re now making all these adjustments because they’re more afraid, not for themselves, opening the stores … but also worried about the safety of their employees, as well as the customers that walk into their stores,” she said.

Kim attributes much of the crime to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, who make up about one-third of her district.

“It’s not just the individuals, but the businesses were targets of the anti-Asian American hate crimes against them and the community,” Kim said.

Riceberg said since the pandemic, crime has become more brazen during the daylight. She said in May 2020, the streets that both stores occupy got hit by violence. Her stores managed to come out unscathed, but her neighbors were not so lucky. This drove business down for her stores, she said.

“It’s not inviting to my customers when everybody around me looks like a war zone,” she said.

To combat the rise in crime, Kim introduced a bipartisan bill called the “Improving Federal Investigations Retail Crime Act of 2022” to strengthen coordination between federal, state, and local agencies and small businesses to combat the rise in organized retail crime.

Hayman said he thinks states and counties should be sharing criminal data with each other to prevent criminals from smashing and grabbing and then crossing county or state lines to avoid punishment — something Hayman believes perpetuates organized retail crime.

Kim, who has received a lot of positive feedback about the legislation, said that taking action to prevent retail crime should not be controversial.

“We need to do more to ensure that people and the communities and the businesses feel safe to live and work in the community they are in,” she said.

The small business committee recently held a roundtable discussion, speaking with several business owners, including Riceberg. Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN), who is on the committee with Kim, said he believes the rise in crime is a result of the negative attitudes toward law enforcement.

“America’s small businesses are suffering from the crime crisis plaguing our cities,” Stauber said in a statement. “Make no mistake, this is a direct result of the defund and disparage the police movement. It’s time for us to support law enforcement and support our small businesses to return prosperity to Main Street America.”

Riceberg agrees with Stauber but believes that local, state, and federal agencies need to do more than just give money to the police and that it is “short-sighted” for Congress to just think it’s a police staffing issue.

She said addressing mental health and reevaluating what punishments look like for retail crime could force a criminal to put in actual retribution to fix what they broke. Community service, she said, could be a better help to the community than just sticking offenders in jail or letting them go with a misdemeanor.

“I think the threat of work is actually scarier than the threat of incarceration, maybe,” she said. “I don’t know, but I know this much: It couldn’t hurt.”

The Washington Examiner

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