A string of “smash-and-grab” robberies at high-profile luxury and small businesses alike has once again reared its ugly head in Chicago in the weeks after a Neiman Marcus location in Midwest’s biggest city saw $17,000 in merchandise stolen on Feb. 5.
On Friday afternoon, five shoplifters stole luxury goods from the Gucci store on the Second City’s famous Magnificent Mile on the 900 block of North Michigan Avenue, according to the Chicago Police Department.
The suspect fled in an unidentified vehicle southbound on Michigan Avenue. No injuries were reported. No one is in custody at this time, though detectives continue to investigate, the department confirmed to Sourcing Journal.
The day before, four suspects robbed a Michigan Avenue Burberry store at approximately 12:35 p.m. This store has been a recent hotspot for theft after it was targeted twice in a span of three days in January and February. In the March robbery, the suspects stole an unknown quantity of handbags and then fled the scene in a stolen 2018 Nissan Maxima.
While the suspects were exiting the store, one struck a 25-year-old female in the left arm. She declined medical attention, according to the Chicago Police Department.
The Magnificent Mile Association, which represents retailers based in the shopping district, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Gucci and Burberry robberies are not the only local break-ins to hit Chicago retailers. Flee Club, a sneaker store in the city’s Near West Side, reported a burglary on Friday, marking the second time in two weeks the retailer was robbed and the fifth time in two years.
A group of about five unknown male suspects broke a window and security gate at Flee Club before entering and stealing approximately $70,000 worth of merchandise, including designer jeans, jackets and a rare New Beginnings two-pack of Jordan 1 sneakers. The suspects then fled in a white SUV.
In a March 18. burglary suspects broke in and stole $40,000 worth of shoes and clothing. The shop has been burglarized three times before these recent incident, according to the store’s co-owner Darris “Gem Shoe” Kelly.
The owners had to eat the loss from the March break-in because they’ve struggled to get insurance due to the recurring burglaries, Kelly said. They started a a GoFundMe fundraiser in hopes of recuperating some of the losses and have raised $2,595 of the $15,000 goal as of Monday.
“The smash-and-grab burglary marks the fifth time our store was broken into, which has been incredibly upsetting,” Kelly wrote on the GoFundMe page. “It’s heartbreaking; it makes us feel so bad every time. These burglaries have stopped my business because we don’t have inventory. We need merchandise to open up. It isn’t a good situation for us. We would love all the help and support we can get to rebuild our business and continue giving a unique business to our community.”
Unfortunately for Kelly and Flee Club’s co-owner Sabrian “Boo” Sledge, the team may consider moving the business out of Chicago due to the recent robberies.
“We want to probably get out [of] this spot. They took everything we got to give,” Kelly told local outlet Block Club Chicago. “Unless you want to spend all your money on overnight security, it’s not really worth it in Chicago.”
The scenario is similar to the multiple robberies that plagued a Minneapolis-based boutique footwear store KKG Kicks. The store was forced to shutter after losing $30,000 worth of merchandise in five robberies in the span of six months, with the latest incident on Feb. 23 resulting in $13,000 worth of stolen athletic footwear.
California lawmakers launch crime counteroffensive
Retail theft, particularly coordinated strikes, have become increasingly commonplace in major U.S. cities, with the recent Chicago instances symptomatic of a much wider national problem. An Arc’teryx store in Washington D.C., for example, was robbed twice last month, while The RealReal’s Madison Avenue flagship location in New York City had as much as $500,000 in luxury goods stolen.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce cited a November 2021 Business.org survey that found that 54 percent of 700 small business owners experienced an increase in shoplifting last year. Additionally, the organization pointed to the National Retail Federation’s data from last year estimating that organized retail crime cost stores an average of over $700,000 per $1 billion in sales in 2020, up more than 50 percent in the last five years.
But it appears the state of California, whose officials and business owners have been pushing House and Senate leaders to pass the proposed Integrity, Notification and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces (INFORM) Consumers Act, is fighting back after rounding up a theft ring.
Nine members of an alleged organized retail theft network accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise from stores throughout California were charged with conspiracy, felony grand theft and receiving stolen property, according to state Attorney General Rob Bonta.
The charges came after a series of thefts across Los Angeles at retailers including Macy’s, Columbia Sportswear, Abercrombie & Fitch, J.C. Penney and Lululemon. Police arrested five of the nine suspects on March 21 in Los Angeles and recovered $62,000 in cash and $135,000 in merchandise stolen from stores.
The next day, three suspects were arrested in Los Angeles and charged in a separate complaint with receiving stolen property for allegedly possessing over $17,000 in stolen merchandise. The ninth and final suspect was arrested on March 25.
The theft ring operated for just over a year in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties, the Inland Empire, the Bay Area, the Central Valley and other parts of California, and some of the goods were shipped overseas, according to the state attorney general’s office.
The ring went after a wide range of clothing brands, including Under Armour, Burberry, American Eagle, Hollister, Victoria’s Secret, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, according to a felony complaint filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
All nine suspects were charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, organized retail theft, grand theft, possession of stolen property and a special allegation that the theft totaled more than $100,000, Bonta said.
He said the group allegedly stole and transported hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of goods from stores in Los Angeles, Alameda, Fresno, Kern, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Ventura counties. They then allegedly shipped the stolen merchandise internationally.
The arrests followed an investigation started last year by the California Highway Patrol in partnership with the state’s organized theft task force, which includes local law enforcement officers and retailers.
On March 23, thieves smashed the front window of a luxury jewelry store in Beverly Hills, Calif. in broad daylight, stealing an estimated $3 million to $5 million in merchandise, according to the retailer’s owner. The high-end goods stolen included diamond-studded jewelry and necklaces as well as luxury watches from brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe.
Los Angeles-area police even warned people that wearing expensive jewelry in public could make them a target for thieves amid the citywide increase in robberies.
Alongside the INFORM Consumers Act, state lawmakers are considering another bill to address organized retail theft. This bill would allow separate instances of retail theft to be counted in aggregate toward the existing $950 felony threshold approved by voters in 2014.
“My bill, AB 2390, would hold criminal offenders accountable while providing diversion programs to address the root causes of the crime, such as poverty, mental disorder, or childhood trauma,” said assembly member and state representative Al Muratsuchi (D-Calif.), who introduced the bill.
“Currently too many offenders charged with a misdemeanor for theft under $950 are not given any jail time and often re-offend,” said Muratsuchi. “This bill would help deter serial theft by holding offenders accountable while offering necessary support services so that they will not re-offend.”