Small businesses are the beating heart of New York City. Yet the crime wave, particularly retail theft, is leaving many businesses fighting for their lives. I know this firsthand, from my own painful experience.
My dream of owning a business came to fruition with a small Upper East Side luxury consignment shop that has served the community now for decades. Owning a business is not for the faint of heart, but here in New York, if you can dream it, you can build it.
Yet over the past couple of years, my store has faced a slew of serious break-ins and robberies — thousands of dollars of merchandise taken within minutes. And these incidents have become all too frequent.
June 2020, a typically glorious start-of-summer month, turned out to be the start of two years of fear. The city was already reeling from the pandemic; we were in lockdown, and all non-essential businesses were closed.
News of looting popped up, and we held our breath, praying our little store tucked away on a side street, East 81st, would be spared. Then we got an alarm alert and a heartbreaking call from the police. We’d been hit.
The thieves threw bricks at our window, shattering the glass and taking off with all the designer handbags and accessories on display. The sad image of our mannequin on the ground covered in glass felt like a metaphor for our spirits. We were all a little defeated.
For once during the pandemic, though, we were glad our store was closed, as no one was injured in the attack; we boarded up the shop, feeling thankful for this small mercy. Until thieves hit us again the very next day. In two days, burglars made off with over $30,000 in merchandise.
Not only have we been broken into in the middle of the night, but we have also been robbed in broad daylight on various occasions. Recently, two “customers” walked into our store and requested assistance from a sales associate. As our staffer unlocked a display case filled with designer handbags, one of the assailants attacked her with pepper spray and the duo made off with $20,000 worth of merchandise.
We’ve also had one individual try to steal from our store repeatedly, prompting our passionate and hard-working female staff to chase him as he fled.
By today, we’d hoped the crime wave would be coming to an end. No such luck: This month, in a moment of déjà vu all over again, another middle-of-the-night alarm blared, bringing our total losses to over $100,000.
When criminals break into our store, we’re left to foot the bill on repairs and the cost of merchandise owed to our consignors, and we’re expected to get back to business “as usual,” despite the great mental and emotional burden and financial disaster.
The losses pile up, and insurance payouts are not necessarily guaranteed. Filing claim after claim means higher premiums and can eventually result in loss of coverage. We’re still waiting to get reimbursement from our first robbery back in 2020. Meanwhile, we invested in an upgraded state-of-the-art security system that will hopefully prevent future break-ins.
Such losses deliver a major blow to any business but are felt even more deeply by small ones struggling to survive. The city is getting pummeled by retail theft, and it’s putting our employees, as well as our community, in considerable danger.
Hard-working women from our community have been consigning their items with us for 30 years now, but we all lose our sense of trust and safety when this kind of crime occurs.
If small businesses like ours continue to face these kind of hits, only big-name corporations will be left to further monopolize our retail environment. Instead, we should be boosting small businesses to foster grass-roots growth and development of our community. We need to address this spike in crime before more New York businesses are forced to shutter.
And we need to act, especially with regard to retail theft, fast — before it’s too late. For a small business, there is no such thing as “petty” crime.
Tiffany Keriakos is CEO of Designer Revival.