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Locked-up shelves ‘irritating’ workers and shoppers at San Francisco Target, Walgreens, and Safeway

An entire aisle at the Safeway on Market and Church streets in San Francisco is locked down. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Locked-up shelves at San Francisco stores have become a common sight due to what companies say is rampant shoplifting.

But customers and staff say the anti-theft measures are irritating, increasing the workload for staffers and wait times for shoppers. The locked shelves are often accompanied by a buzzer that customers push to summon an employee with a key, an interaction that’s becoming increasingly frayed on both sides of the aisle.

One worker at Safeway’s Duboce Triangle store told The Standard on Friday he is quitting his job due to the added stress of unlocking items and shepherding them to the checkout for customers. The store at Market and Church streets adds an extra layer of security that means shoppers don’t get to touch some items until they’ve paid for them. 

“It’s just too much,” said David MacDowell, who is quitting Safeway after six months.

People wait for staff to unlock the shelves holding liquor at the Safeway on Market and Church streets in San Francisco on Friday. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

MacDowell has been constantly scurrying around, turning keys and ferrying goods to the front for customers, since the policy change was made in May, he said.

“Having to bring things to the front was a game changer,” MacDowell said, using his hand to muffle a walkie-talkie telling him to unlock the liquor shelves. “Every day, it’s like this.”

Customers said they were unhappy with the arrangement, too. Danielle Strauss waited over three minutes on Friday to purchase a single tube of toothpaste from the Castro Safeway.

“Most of the time, I just order this stuff online to avoid going here completely,” Strauss said.

READ MORE: Here’s How Long It Took To Buy Locked-Up Items in San Francisco Stores

Calthia Gomes, who waited for an employee to unlock Tide Pods after using the help button, said she waits five to 10 minutes for workers to arrive. Often, she doesn’t have the patience.

“I just find the person and flag them down,” Gomes said.

‘They’ll Steal Anything’

Staff and customers said they were annoyed about having to unlock shelves at the Metreon Target in Downtown San Francisco, too.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Miriam Clark, a San Francisco bank worker who visited Target to grab painkillers for a colleague. “It usually takes them a while.”

The Standard had to wait three minutes and 20 seconds for Metreon Target staff to unlock Tide Pods during a Friday visit.

Tide Pods are locked up behind acrylic cases at the Target in Downtown San Francisco's Metreon on Friday. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“Like every 20 minutes, someone would come and take something and run out,” said a Target staffer in the electronics section, who agreed to speak anonymously because they were not authorized to speak with the press.

“They’ll steal anything that isn’t tied down,” another worker said.

Multiple Target staffers said they receive few complaints from customers about the security measures.

READ MORE: ‘You Can Get Anything’: How SF’s Black Market Thrives Off Retail Theft

‘15,000 Steps a Day’

At a Walgreens in San Francisco’s South Beach, a customer said she understands why deodorant and toothbrushes are locked up, but it has made her shopping experience worse.

“They’re pretty good here, but it’s irritating,” said Stacey Reynolds-Peterson, who lives in an apartment near the South Beach waterfront. “When they’re understaffed, you need to wait.”

Workers said the anti-theft measures often force them to do three jobs at once: check customers out, stock shelves and unlock items.

Toothbrushes are under lock and key at the Walgreens on Fourth Street in San Francisco on Friday. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“I get like 15,000 steps a day,” said one worker, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the press. “I get tired.”

Workers in San Francisco may have to keep turning keys for customers due to shoplifting, but MacDowell has other plans.

“I’m going to work somewhere else where I don’t have to deal with all this,” he said.