London Drugs president and chief operating officer Clint Mahlman has seen a lot in his nearly 40 years with the company, but he says the company has no plans to close stores due to escalating violence and theft, though the issue has reached a “crisis point” for Canadian retailers.
Mahlman told The Canadian Press in an interview Wednesday that the company was disappointed to learn that a Vancouver city councillor said on social media that London Drugs was considering closing one of its main stores in the city, at the intersection of Granville and Georgia streets, due to crime.
“We’ve invested significant resources to ensure it remains a safe place to shop and work for our staff,” he said.
Mahlman said there’s no truth to the statement and it needlessly worried staff and customers.
“The key issue in all of this is the escalating violence, vandalism and economic loss,” he said. “We are at a crisis point in retail, but nothing is close to being decided on any store closures.”
Mahlman said closing any locations would be a last resort, and a matter between London Drugs and its landlords and employees, not the media and local politicians.
Retail theft and escalating violence has been an issue for many years, and working with police and government to combat the rise in organized theft remains a large concern, Mahlman said.
“Frankly, we need all levels of government, including the City of Vancouver, to act now,” he said. “Citizens, customers talk all the time about being afraid to walk the streets, particularly in the downtowns. It’s not just a Vancouver issue. We hear this throughout the province.”
Mahlman said there’s been no decisions made about closing stores due to crime, but it’s not out of the question if nothing changes, and policymakers need to take heed of the toll on businesses caused by theft and violence.
Mahlman said it’s sad that repeat offenders have targeted retailers “seemingly without consequence.”
“It’s giving them licence to come back more often and create more crime,” he said. “This isn’t petty theft. This is organized retail crime.”
He said London Drugs staff have had to deal with “horrible” acts of violence, and the company has had to train people to de-escalate dangerous situations to avoid violence.
“We’ve had staff hit with hatchets, stabbed, threats of knives, threats of needles, bear-sprayed, physical assault,” he said.
He said London Drugs is a private company and couldn’t release exact numbers about the toll of theft on the company’s operations, but said it’s in the ballpark of “tens of millions” each year.
“That doesn’t include the replacement of broken windows and vandalism or the human toll of leaves of absence,” he said.
Mahlman said there’s no truth to reports of the company potentially closing its downtown Vancouver stores, but he said “all options have to be on the table if we can’t get government help to deal with this.”
“That includes the potential of closing stores in the future if nothing changes due to this escalating violence and vandalism and the economic loss,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about protecting our people from the repeat violent offenders.”