From CVS to LV

The thieves of the West Coast of the US have upgraded

A passerby taking photos of the smashed and looted Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco. Screen grab: Yealenne/Twitter

The situation in the US has become this dire, especially in the West Coast. According to a KPIX CBS SF Bay Area news report, “a big heist” took place last Friday at the Louis Vuitton store in Union Square, San Francisco. And you thought the looting of LV last year is now but a memory. The lastest incident did not take place during a protest gone uncontrollably wrong. KPIX‘s field reporter said a witness saw “more than a dozen people could be running at the store, clinging to merchandise and hauling as much as they could” on a regular Friday night. SFGate later reported that the thieves “emptied out” LV. Images and videos shared on social media showed (mostly) men running out of the store and fleeing, arms filled with merchandise. One getaway car was stopped by the police, who smashed its windscreen and windows. A man was seen leaving the car and the police apprehended him.

This is a stunning robbery, conducted during the store’s opening hours. Yet, the perpetrators were described on social media as “shoplifters”. In California, “entering an open business with the intent to steal less than US$950 worth of property is shoplifting under state law”, as the local media reported. Shoplifting is usually considered a “misdemeanor”. If the many photos of the empty shelves of the LV store are any indication, the stuff taken were likely more than US$1000 apiece. This brazen attack on a store of a highly popular luxury brand is, to many, an “upgrade” of the retail theft that has afflicted the Bay Area in the past two years.

Across the country, and also last week, “at least 14 people forced their way into a Louis Vuitton store” in Oak Brook, Illinois, and “made off with at least $100,000 in merchandise”, according to CNN affiliate WLS-TV. Footages from security cameras obtained by the station showed these individuals rushing in and grabbing what was displayed on shelves, mainly handbags, as far as we can make them out. The shoppers seemingly hurried out of the way. No one, it appeared, stopped the looters, not even the staff. This was not the first LV attack in the state. Earlier this month, thieves stole US$150,000 in merchandise from the brand’s store in the northern suburbs of Northbrook, for the second time!

Security camera showed the burglars at work in the LV store in Illinois. Photo: WLS-TV

One of the most alarming video-shots that circulated online in June, was of an apparent larceny that took place in a San Francisco pharmacy Walgreens. The man was seen stuffing a garbage bag with merchandise that was wiped off the shelves. Shoppers and a security guard simply looked on. The robber got away on a bicycle. Although the culprit was arrested less than a week later, according to local reports, similar incidents continue to make the news and be shared on social media. Not long after the Walgreens case, it was reported that four women fled after stealing from another pharmacy CVS, at two separate locations. Just two days ago, CVS announced that they would be “closing 900 stores over the next three years” (San Francisco outlets would be affected). Although retail theft was not cited for the closures, many observers believe that it is one of the reasons. Walgreens had also announced earlier the closure of at least five of their SF stores. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, the figure is now 22.

Getting a grasp of the pervasiveness of the grab-and-go, without-compunction crimes is not easy. At least for those of us from this little red dot, where even plucking a fruit from a roadside tree is a chargeable offence. There is yet a comprehensive understanding of what drives these people to target the equivalent of our Guardian or Watsons, even in San Francisco. But, by the looks of things, these daring robbers are not slowing down or staying down-market. While we were speaking to our SF source about the storming of LV, he sent us another news report, showing attacks to more than just the maker of Neverfull, Keepall, and Speedy. According to KPIX CBS SF Bay Area, luxury stores in the Union Square shopping area, including “Burberry, Bloomingdales, and Armani were hit”—either burglarised or vandalised. An SFPD spokesperson told the media that the burglaries were “concerted… and was not unplanned”. Luxury fashion now the target of organised larcenists? Would the burglaries further increase the desirability of those targeted brands? Can crime boost hype? A frightful thought.

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