I used to love drug stores. When I was sick, I could find what I needed to feel better. When I was well, going up and down the aisles, finding a new lipstick, eye shadow, shampoo, or bubble bath, was a form of therapy. For a small amount, I could spot something that made me feel better, for an afternoon, evening, or longer. The pharmacist was helpful and well informed. (Truth be told, often more knowledgeable than a doctor.) The sales people were always eager to help and share information.
Now going to a drug store is a stressful experience. The pharmacies, overwhelmed from the pandemic, are understaffed, reflecting that a large number of these trained professionals have quit their jobs. Trying to fill prescriptions while also administering vaccines led to work overload. Many pharmacies in the city now close for lunch because there’s not enough help to cover even that short break time. When the pharmacist is in, the lines are often long and the wait times excruciating.
The biggest change in drug stores, however, has to do with shoplifting. Everyday items like mouthwash and toothpaste are now locked up. Need something? Ring a bell and, if you’re lucky, someone will come with a key to unlock the item you want. If you need more than one thing, you may be calling on that person multiple times. There’s no relaxed browsing. Make a list, be ready to point the sales person to what you need, and do it fast. And please be kind to the sales people. They don’t like the situation any more than we do.
In some neighborhoods large chains have decided it’s costing them too much to stay in business. Typically these closures happen in high crime areas where the drug store that is closing may be the last one for miles. Imagine having a sick baby and not be able to run out for the Tylenol you need. Amazon and other delivery services become the go-to place, but if the price is reasonable, the wait time may not be.
According to Manhattan’s Midtown South Precinct, shoplifting reports have increased by 60 percent since 2021. And these thefts have become more violent with a typical shoplifting incident often turning into a full fledged robbery, the assailant armed with a knife or box cutter. Those who work in drug stores, as well as customers, often find themselves in danger.
Of course, it’s not just drug stores that are being plagued with these thefts. Food stores are targets, too. The manager of one food store was quoted in the New York Post about shoplifters making off with meat, beer, and detergents. While many high end stores employ security guards – some are now bringing in dogs – many cannot afford the cost. In the end, however, they pay with lost merchandise.
Shoplifting is not a victimless crime. It hurts everyone and is a threat to people and to the community. These incidents are not just school kids swiping a pack of gum. These are skilled operators who can be in and out of a store in minutes, knowing what to grab that they can resell online. Some of these shoplifters have been arrested numerous times and still manage to get out to shoplift again. Many times these incidents are categorized as petit thefts and not eligible for bail under state law.
We need to take back our neighborhoods. Write your local and state representatives. Only when serial shoplifters are charged with a more serious crime will they get the message that this type of behavior will no longer be tolerated. If we continue to accept this situation as normal, then a sense of normalcy will never return to our stores and to our city.
Top photo: Bigstock