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Lightfoot accused of abdicating responsibility for retail crime wave

“The biggest problem for all of us is that our leaders who need to sit down … and work on it are pointing fingers at each other as opposed to working constructively with us,” said Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association
Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association
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Mayor Lori Lightfoot was accused Thursday of abdicating responsibility for the retail crime wave sweeping Chicago and, instead, pressuring merchants to implement their own costly and unworkable security measures.

Twice in the last month — and as recently as this week — Lightfoot urged Magnificent Mile merchants victimized repeatedly by smash-and-grab robberies to follow the lead of their counterparts in Milan, London, Paris, Rome and along Hollywood’s Rodeo Drive.

She specifically mentioned security guards at the door, entrance cameras, merchandise “either chained and roped or put behind glass” and customers being “buzzed into” stores.

On Thursday, Illinois Retail Merchants Association President Rob Karr flatly rejected all of the mayor’s ideas.

He branded the suggestions “extraordinarily disheartening,” “misinformed” and “false”—yet another example of how Lightfoot “continues to point fingers and play the blame game.”

“Some merchandise can be locked up but not all of it. That’s not how retail works. The consumer wants an experience. You can’t have an experience if all of the merchandise is locked up behind a counter or chained to a wall,” Karr told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Do we really want every retailer having to decide whether or not they’re gonna buzz someone in? What kind of questions do they interrogate the consumer with to try to decide whether to let someone in? That might work for a few extraordinarily small … stores. But that is not gonna work for the vast majority. ... Retail has to be open-facing to the consumer. We are not a factory that can be locked behind a gate. We are not City Hall or the Capitol that can have security officers with arresting authority at the doors.”

Karr was taken aback that Lightfoot — the first African American female and first openly gay person to serve as mayor of Chicago — would promote a buzz-in requirement he claims would “undoubtedly” trigger charges of racial profiling.

“Do we really want that type of environment for our neighborhoods? Think about Little Village. Think about the East Lake View area. Think about all the retail corridors. Because it’s not just the Mag Mile. It’s all of those retail corridors that are impacted,” he said.

“We’d be getting screamed at for [racial profiling]. And furthermore, it would push more people to simply go online. Why would you go to a store if you can’t touch, feel and try on the merchandise?”

For the first time in his 27 years at the state’s premier retail trade group, Karr said he is “starting to see the impact of organized retail crime show up in reports to shareholders.”

Businesses are citing safety and crime as “No. 1 and No. 2” on the list of factors that will determine whether they remain viable and, if so, where their stores will be located.

Karr argued that Chicago’s future as a downtown business center and a magnet for conventions and tourism literally depends on how quickly the crisis is abated.

“Until safety is addressed and addressed persistently … over the long term, we are going to have a problem … getting 2.6 million people to commute back downtown, which is also part of the pandemic, but they’re mentioning safety and a resistance to come back to work. We’re gonna struggle to get 55 million tourists back to Chicago,” Karr said.

“The biggest problem for all of us is that our leaders who need to sit down … and work on it are pointing fingers at each other as opposed to working constructively with us.”

Also on Thursday, Karr urged the City Council to amend Lightfoot’s stalled sports betting ordinance to give all Chicago retailers a crack at opening a sportsbook on the premises.

The ordinance limits sports betting to a downtown casino; in or within a five-block radius of the United Center, Soldier Field, Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field and Wintrust Arena; and at an off-track betting facility in the city “provided that no sports wagering is conducted at the OTB’s affiliated horse racing track.”

“Think a sports bar situation or a dining establishment that’s tailored to more of a sports environment. That might be ideal for that type of setting,” Karr said.

“We’re overthinking it when we’re gonna have to limit it. It will limit itself. ... It doesn’t fit for every establishment. It only fits for some. … I have a hard time believing that a sit-down restaurant that doesn’t have the TVs and the sports vibe [is] gonna offer sports betting.”

Karr acknowledged that Chicago sports moguls will resist the competition. “It would grow the revenue pie,” he said. “It all comes down to what revenue options the state and city want. Do they want to grow that or do they want to limit it?”