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A Phil Hall Op-Ed: Last week was a dismal period for the retail sector, with two stories that highlighted an out-of-control danger that is not being addressed at a federal level.

One story involved Target Corp. (NYSE:TGT), which announced it was closing nine stores across the country due to theft and violence happening within those 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,” said Target in a statement. The stores that will be shuttered on Oct. 21 include a location in New York City’s East Harlem, two in Seattle, three in Portland and three in the San Francisco-Oakland area.

Also last week, Philadelphia was under assault by organized gangs of looters who took aim at retailers ranging from a local Apple store to independently owned neighborhood shops. As of today, 72 people have been arrested for this crime spree and more suspects are being sought.

Last week was not an aberration. The National Retail Federation’s annual report detailed how “retail crime, violence and theft continue to impact the retail industry at unprecedented levels.” The report added that the “average shrink rate in [fiscal] 2022 increased to 1.6% [from] 1.4% in FY 2021.”

In announcing the actions being taken against those involved in the Philadelphia crimes, Interim Police Commissioner John Stanford told reporters at a press conference that “a robbery charge, a burglary charge, a theft charge, receiving stolen property – whatever we can possibly apply to this situation, we’re going to apply it.”

Perhaps a new charge needs to be brought against organized crime rings that are attacking retail stores: domestic terrorism.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. If a store is forced to shut down because of violent crime, whether it is a massive Target department store or a small neighborhood liquor shop, that store is going to remain vacant for a very long time. And imagine being the real estate broker tasked with getting a new tenant in a store that criminals forced out of business.

As for the other stores in the surrounding area, there is a good chance they will eventually leave town, either because criminals force them out of businesses or because shoppers are too afraid to go into neighborhoods with a reputation for being dangerous. I’ve already seen the latter happen in New York City – a friend of mine posted an online video showing a section of Manhattan around 7:00 p.m. that had the barest evidence of vehicular traffic and no pedestrians in sight. At one time, this was the most vibrant and busy corner of the city. I asked my friend why it was so empty, and he said the stores in the neighborhood were closing earlier due to crime, which has turned the area into something of a ghost town.

This situation goes beyond petty crime into the realm of domestic terrorism. It creates not only a state of fear of physical harm among residents, but it destroys the economic vibrancy of communities – and it couldn’t come at a worst time, given the financial chaos that Bidenomics has created.

In June, the White House published a fact sheet on domestic terrorism that claimed how individuals “who engage in domestic terrorism and hate-fueled violence attempt to intimidate Americans and deny them their most basic rights, including their lives and liberty.” Well, isn’t that happening with organized retail crime rings that destroy businesses and threaten to cripple the social and economic spirit of neighborhoods? By denying people the right to make a living and to move freely in their neighborhoods without fear of violent attack, the criminals have graduated from coarse miscreants into domestic terrorists.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration would rather see domestic terrorism as the apprehension by suburban parents who question the ideological agenda of their local school boards. There has been no comment from the White House on the threat to retail stores and their wider communities.

Maybe someone needs to make the White House listen. Real estate groups and retail organizations must work together to demand action – not just from local police departments, but at a national level. Organized retail crime needs to be defined by the federal government as domestic terrorism, and law enforcement agencies need to pursue the situation through a domestic terrorism spectrum before it metastasizes further.

The folks at Target said it best: “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.”

Phil Hall is editor of Weekly Real Estate News. He can be reached at [email protected].

Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Police Department.