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Shuswap grocer taking measures to curb ‘rampant’ shoplifting

‘there are getaway vehicles waiting right outside our doors’
Shoppers at the Salmon Arm Uptown and other Askew’s Foods locations are being asked not to shop into their reusable grocery bags – one of the measures being taken by the Shuswap grocer in an effort to curb shoplifting. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Uptown Askew’s Foods manager Heather Turner would rather see money go to community needs, and not measures to deter shoplifting.

However, increasing difficulties with theft, and theft attempts, have pushed the Shuswap grocer to invest in efforts to address product loss while protecting staff and customers.

“We’ve always had shoplifters, but not this extent. It’s really been bad,” said Turner, suggesting incidents of shoplifting began to rise in December, and have been particularly prominent over the past few months.

“It’s discouraging. I know all the staff and all the stores work hard, we want to provide our customers nice products and we want to support the community as much as we can, but when we’re having this theft it makes it harder and harder to do that. It chips away at all the things you want to do.”

In addition to asking customers to use the store’s provided grocery baskets and carts, and not shop into reusable grocery bags, Askew’s will also be installing a gate system at the entryway.

“So when you come in the in-doors, you can’t go out the in-doors,” said Turner, noting how in one recent incident a pair of people worked together, with one going inside to gather goods while the other waited by the in-door, ready to activate it. Intervening staff prevented a shopping buggy with $600 worth of groceries from going out the door.

“We’re just doing whatever we can to deter these people,” said Turner. “We’ll probably be putting in a locked bathroom door so you’ll have to get a key… Which is obviously a major inconvenience for 99 per cent of our customers, but we’re being forced into this situation where we have to do something.”

Askew’s Foods general manager Dave Wallace said the same thing is being experienced at all Askew’s locations, where deterrence measures are also being taken.

“We feel it is organized, as right now it is no longer just someone stealing a steak or a block of cheese,” said Wallace. “They are going out the door with buggies and baskets… there are getaway vehicles waiting right outside our doors.”

Speaking off record, staff at two other large Salmon Arm retailers shared similar experiences and noted the increase in shoplifting is being experienced by businesses throughout town. This was supported by Salmon Arm RCMP Staff Sgt. Scott West, who said Salmon Arm has seen an increase in shoplifting over 2023.

“On average, there have been 7 more shoplifting complaints from local stores per month in 2024,” said West in an email. “The thefts have included retail stores in a broader geographic area of our city.”

Asked if there’s an element of organization behind the increase, West commented, “It appears that there (is) more than one person involved in some of these shoplifting crimes.”

“In the past, we have seen instances of repeat shoplifters in our area that are operating over large geographic areas,” said West. “These types of thefts are transient in nature as the criminals travel and target non-perishable retail items.”

Wallace is appreciative of the help received from the RCMP, but said he realizes their hands are tied and that it can be frustrating when charges aren’t approved after a suspect has been identified and there is video footage of them leaving the store with groceries.

Both Turner and Wallace shared their appreciation of the community’s support and understanding, stressing the deterrence measures are in response to a significant challenge.

“We thank everybody for their understanding – It’s not necessarily a friendly greeting to our locations but we just can’t go on with the rampant theft that’s happening,” said Wallace.

Read more: Salmon Arm RCMP respond to 3 thefts in a week

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Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor of the Salmon Arm Observer, Shuswap Market, and Eagle Valley News. I'm always looking for new and exciting ways to keep our readers informed and engaged.
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