Chicago small business owners are coping with theft and destruction while, according to them, there is no “collaborative effort” from local leaders to crack down on rampant crime sweeping the city.
“When we’re like, as a small business, worried about constantly being robbed like that – we’re very easy to break into – and we’re not getting any response,” BFF Bikes owner Gillian Forsyth told CBS Chicago on Monday. “And I’m not blaming the police or anything – I’m sure they have a multitude of cases. There were five bike shops broken into in the space of two or three weeks. There doesn’t seem to be a collaborative effort to solve this problem.”
Forsyth’s shop in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago was targeted by thieves twice over two weeks in broad daylight. Windows were left broken and surveillance video showed thieves wheeling expensive bikes away from the shop.
“It’s frightening. It’s really frightening,” Forsyth said. “They ran off down the alley next to the church here, and you can see them put the bikes in their car – and they just drove off.”
Five bikes total were stolen, coming out to about $15,000, and the cost to repair a broken window for the second time was $1,000.
Forsyth is far from alone.
Chicago’s continuing theft crimes are affecting businesses and restaurants across the city this holiday season. And owners continue to repeat similar demands: They want action from Chicago leadership.
“The mayor and Kim Foxx have to take a firm stand. It is wrong for someone to walk in, break into a place. And if they get caught, they get let out,” Joe Perillo, co-owner of Gold Coast Exotic Motor Cars, said earlier this month.
His high-end exotic car dealership was targeted by armed smash-and-grab looters on Dec. 11, who stole watches worth millions of dollars in a matter of seconds.
“When I went on the news, I said enough is enough. Those two words resonated. The phone calls started ringing in my dealership. My friends, relatives, people that I didn’t know. People that could get a hold of my number and they were saying enough is enough. I never realized that it has gotten to such a boiling point and no one stepping out to say anything about it,” Perillo said on “Fox & Friends” earlier this month. He noted that he previously voted for Lightfoot but will no longer support her.
When Fox News reached out to Mayor Lightfoot’s office with business owner’s concerns their email response simply read “thanks for your message.”
The president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association Rob Karr said at a crime summit at University of Illinois at Chicago this month that rings of thieves are a top concern for business owners.
“Stores now number one, and number two is a safety question. It used to be taxes and regulation, it’s now one and two safety. It’s determining their livelihood, where they are going to locate, whether they’re going to locate and their viability,” Karr said. “That’s how bad this problem has gotten.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot also attended the crime summit and appeared to pin partial blame for the thefts on business owners not taking enough precautions against the crimes.
“I’m disappointed that they’re not doing more to take safety and make it a priority,” she said. “For example, we still have retailers that won’t institute measures like having security officers in their stores, making sure that they’ve got cameras that are actually operational.”
The mayor was dragged for the remarks, with Karr saying her comments were “sadly misinformed.” While White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “we don’t agree” when asked about Lightfoot’s remarks, as well as comments from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez downplaying the existence of smash-and-grabs in California.
Warnings about crimes affecting businesses had bubbled in the city before holiday shopping season kicked off. Jack Lavin, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said back in October that film industry executives and other businesses looking to work in Chicago had asked about rising crimes.
“This is a key economic engine for the city of Chicago and the gateway to the city where tourists come and where companies think of locating headquarters,” Lavin said, according to NBC News. “We need to make it safe and that people can trust in public safety.”
Despite the warnings, the crimes against businesses have only increased this year.
Chicago police data shows there has been a 20% increase in theft crimes in the city from January to Dec. 19 of this year compared to the same time frame last year. Robbery crimes are about the same this year compared to last, sitting at 7,633 robberies as of Dec. 19 this year. While murders are up 5% so far this year compared to last and criminal sexual assaults are up 29%.
Restaurants have not been spared the attention of thieves either. Criminals managed to steal a wad of cash tips from workers at Ca Phe Dá Vietnamese Kitchen last month, another man broke into a bakery on 18th St. and shattered its window, and three suspects targeted Le Sud restaurant this month and stole from patrons.
“There’s no question that people that might come in from the suburbs, or people that might come visit our city, might be a little cautious because of what’s going on with crime,” Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association said this month, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Crime and public safety are top concerns for restaurants throughout Chicago, especially in our central business district. It’s just another issue that restaurant owners and operators need to start dealing with now.”
Smash-and-grab lootings, which are currently plaguing California, have also been reported in the city. Thieves allegedly threw a cinderblock through a Canada Goose store early Thanksgiving morning and took merchandise. Thieves also targeted a Foot Locker, a North Face store and a cell phone store over Thanksgiving weekend.
The crime spike in the city has also affected hotel occupancy. Occupancy dropped from 74% in 2019 to 26% last year amid the pandemic, the Chicago Tribune reported. It ticked back up to 42% this year, but the coronavirus surges and crime looming over the city are roadblocks to continued growth.
“We hear it all the time from people that are visitors to our city,” longtime hotelier Bob Habeeb, CEO of Maverick Hotels and Restaurants, told the Tribune. “They say, we hear about all these murders and shootings, and we’re afraid. We’re afraid to come there.”
President and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association Michael Jacobson added that crime has “absolutely” affected the hotel industry in Chicago.
“And it’s something that we can’t as an industry or can’t as a city afford for that to continue.”
Lightfoot said at a press conference Monday that she knows “people are scared” and requested the federal government to send ATF agents to Chicago for six months.
She said her goal is to “proactively and relentlessly bring peace to our city once and for all.”