Target closing stores due to theft, concerns of violence toward workers

Citing concerns over organized retail theft and the importance of safety for its employees, Target has announced it will close several stores in select U.S. cities.

Starting Oct. 21, Target says it will close stores in New York (one location), San Francisco/Oakland (three total locations), Portland (three locations) and Seattle (two locations).

"We cannot continue operating these stores because theft and organized retail crime are threatening the safety of our team and guests, and contributing to unsustainable business performance. We know that our stores serve an important role in their communities, but we can only be successful if the working and shopping environment is safe for all," Target said in an announcement.

Prior to making the decision, Target said it, "invested heavily in strategies to prevent and stop theft and organized retail crime," in its stores, including adding more security team members, using third-party guard services and implementing theft-deterrent tools across its business. However, the challenges persist at the selection locations, Target said in the announcement.

"For someone who's been watching this for years, it's no surprise to me," said Charlie Anderson, a commander with the St. Paul Police Department who specializes in organized retail crime.

Anderson says since the pandemic, thieves have become more brazen, evidenced by a rash of smash and grab robberies across the country, and more willing to use violence to commit their crimes.

"So that if confronted by a store level employee, whereas before, we may have seen the person run or drop the items and then leave, what you're seeing now is brandishing of weapons, direct physical confrontation and assaults," said Anderson.

Anderson helped write a new law in Minnesota that defines organized retail crime and sets it apart as its own offense with stiffer penalties. He says retailers need to invest in more technology to share information with law enforcement.

Anderson also says local, county and state governments need to create their own task forces to combat the problem in a more holistic way.

"I think this is just one of the first press releases that we've seen of this kind, not necessarily just from Target, but we're going to see this more, unfortunately, until we get a better grip on this," said Anderson. 

One marketing expert at the University of Minnesota says companies like Target may be changing their tune when it comes to citing theft as the reason for closing stores, because it's become a bigger problem than retailers can handle on their own.

"This is an issue. Something's got to be done. I think that's the new easy to understand message," said prof. George John of the U's Carlson School of Management.

Target claims that more than 150 locations will remain open in the cities where the closures are occurring.

In New York, its Harlem location at 517 East 117th Street will close.

In Seattle, locations at 4535 University Way NE, and 1448 NW Market St, Ste 100. 

In San Francisco and Oakland, store locations include 1690 Folsom Street, Oakland Broadway & 27th at 2650 Broadway and its 4301 Century Blvd store.

Throughout Portland, locations include 939 SW Morrison St, 3031 SE Powell Blvd and 4030 NE Halsey St.