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A line of businesses with black bars covering their front doors, on Telegraph Avenue, including Marwa Market & Grille, New City Glass & Gift Shop and Abyssinia Market

‘Customers aren’t taking the risk’: growing retail crime upends Oakland business community

on March 7, 2024

Sarpreet Oberoi has been to various In-N-Out Burger locations in the Bay Area over the past eight years and found news that the Oakport outlet was closing because of crime “saddening.” 

He believes it’s a good spot for a fast food company, with plentiful parking, lots of customers, and a vibrant retail corridor. But it’s law and order that matters, he said. 

Major chain businesses are leaving or reducing operations in Oakland due to crime. However, small business owners are trying to face the crisis amid customer fears and losses, urging the city to tackle the root causes of crime. 

On Jan. 21, In-N-Out Burger confirmed the closure of its Oakland location near the airport. The last day of business is March 24, according to a company statement posted on X, formerly Twitter. 

It said the decision to close the In-N-Out location was “due to ongoing issues with crime.” 

The Oakport restaurant is profitable, the company said, but customers and workers have been repeatedly subjected to car break-ins, property damage, theft, and armed robberies. 

 “We cannot ask them to visit or work in an unsafe environment,” Denny Warnick, chief operating officer at In-N-Out Burger, said in the statement.

Crime is not just a business problem, said Priscilla Wilson, an In-N-Out Burger customer and long-time Oakland resident. “It is a community crisis.”

Wilson said her family is considering moving from the neighborhood because, “It feels so unsafe for our kids to play outside.”

Following the In-N-Out Burger announcement, Denny’s Restaurant, at 601 Hegenberger Road, also announced its closure, citing the safety and well-being of employees and clientele in a note to customers taped on the front door. 

A security guard who has worked at In-N-Out, witnessing and even video-recording crimes there, said calls to 911 were pointless because they would be on hold for so long, the culprits would be long gone.

“The city is aware of the need for more police officers to respond to 911 calls and other crime activity,” Mayor Sheng Thao said in an interview with KRON4 TV last month. “But it is limited by funding to meet such needs.” 

An In-N-Out restaurant takes up the frame - a white building, with red trim and a yellow arrow.
On Jan. 21, 2024, In-N-Out Burger confirmed the closure of its Oakland location. (Marion Apio)

Car break-ins have become frequent, so fewer customers are coming to shops such as Beauty Supply Warehouse on Telegraph Avenue, said John Montoya, a store manager. 

“Customers aren’t taking the risk,” he said. 

In his 15 years in the business, Montoya has witnessed a lot of thefts, including robbers who came in through the roof. He recalled a particularly frightening encounter with an armed robber. “The thief pulled out a gun and told me to step away,” Montoya said. He could only call police. However, they are unlikely to respond to thefts under $950. In 2014, California voters approved a measure that makes thefts under that amount only a misdemeanor.  

“The police are doing nothing,” Montoya said.

When they do show up, it might be seven or eight hours later, said Tom O’Shaughnessy, owner of Econo Jam Records on Telegraph Avenue.

The break-ins can cost shopowners more than the thefts.

 “They smashed a window and messed up a frame, which cost us $2,500 to replace,” O’Shaughnessy said.

A man in a black hoodie and gray knit cap stands before three screens with surveillance footage, behind a counter that has boxes of hair clippers. On the walls hang lots of packages.
John Montoya, manager at Beauty Supply Warehouse, views surveillance photos. (Marion Apio)

Crime has steadily increased in Oakland since 2019. In 2023, the Police Department reported about 1,300 more incidents of violent crime, such as homicide, aggravated assault, rape, and robbery, than in 2022. There were more than 13,000 reports of car break-ins last year, making up 29% of the total crime incidents. As for car thefts, they grew by 45% from 2022 to 2023, and the five-year average showed an increase of 49%. 

“Having a retail store should not be a dangerous job,” O’Shaughnessy said.

“It is unfair that small business owners in Oakland have to live through anxiety every day.” 

Shopkeepers are doing what they can to discourage thieves. For example, at New City Glass & Gift Shop, merchandise is not out in the open and cameras capture images of people entering and leaving the store. Some stores have hired private security guards, though the price tag makes that option prohibitive for many.  

But businesses can’t combat the root causes of crime, noted Mike Hagos, a worker at the gift shop. It takes the whole community to address such things as low wages, high rents, housing insecurity and few opportunities for young people, he said.

The city needs people who are willing to confront the crisis and find solutions, said Dexter Jones, pastor at Love Temple Missionary Baptist Church. “You do not have to run from Oakland,” he said.

Montoya said business owners who can ride out the storm, might find a silver lining. “Your main competition is gone,” he said. “Whoever’s left standing after this crisis is going to have the opportunity to control certain markets.”

Vinyl records line two walls and fill stacks in the room of a store, with royal blue walls. A man in a black T-shirt and cropped gray hair flips through a stack.
Tom O’Shaughnessy, owner of Econo Jam Records (Marion Apio)

The problem isn’t specific to Oakland. In a 2022 survey of small businesses, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that more than half said they had experienced crime and about half thought retail theft was getting worse. In April, the National Retail Federation released a report about the growing threat of organized retail crime, in which robbers are more brazen and targeted in their approach.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently said that 120 California Highway Patrol officers would be deployed in Oakland and surrounding areas to crack down on crime, including vehicle theft, retail theft and violent crime.  

“We have to do better,” said Thao, who is trying to head off a recall effort by residents who pin the blame for escalating crime on her.

Thao told KRON that the police force is at its strongest number in the past three years, though the city is still trying to fill police and 911 dispatcher vacancies. Oakland also has committed more resources to operation ceasefire, a community-based, anti-violence program that had shown promise but lost resources in the past few years.

Thao said her administration took a year to analyze the problem and find solutions. “I’m very optimistic,” she said, “that we are going to see the crime numbers coming down.”

At Uptown Market, tech pays the rent for local retailers


  1. Shosioness on March 13, 2024 at 12:45 am

    Sad to hear about the closing of the In-N-Out Burger location in Oakland due to ongoing crime issues. Sarpreet Oberoi’s views on the matter are interesting, highlighting the importance of law and order in maintaining a safe and prosperous business environment. The easygoing gameplay of this a small world cup game makes it accessible to players of all skill levels. It’s perfect for casual gaming sessions or quick matches with friends.

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