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It’s come to this: Even gum is locked up in this San Francisco Walgreens

Bags of gum stand locked behind plexiglass at a drug store.
Bags of gum sit locked up behind plexiglass at a San Francisco Walgreens on Friday. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Over my last year and a half covering retail theft in San Francisco stores, I thought I’d seen it all. Shops have been locking up everything from Tide Pods to toothpaste.

But finding a San Francisco Walgreens that put chewing gum under lock and key blew me away.

At the Walgreens store in the city’s quaint Inner Richmond, the same one that shot to infamy for putting locks on its freezers, theft is so bad that nuts and gum are together at last, entombed in a plastic prison.

The freezer chains have since vanished, as have the plastic screens guarding cans of soup, which were present on Friday but had gone away by Tuesday.

What’s weirder still is that the gum in Perspex purgatory is priced as low as $4.29. Imprisoned toothbrush? That’ll be $1.99, please—the lowest priced item The Standard saw behind a security screen.

READ MORE: San Francisco Safeway Removes Self-Checkout Due to Theft

Bags of nuts sit behind locked plexiglass.
Bags of nuts sit behind locked plexiglass to deter theft at a Walgreens in San Francisco's Inner Richmond neighborhood. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

I hung around the Walgreens at 5280 Geary Blvd. for an hour Friday and spoke with the workers about theft and locked-up items. As I made my rounds inside the drug store, the acrylic gleam was ubiquitous. The aisle with cosmetics and shampoo is entirely locked behind plexiglass, the store’s fluorescent lights bouncing off their protective skins.

The workers, who wouldn’t give us their names because Walgreens doesn’t permit them talk to the press, said the panels were nothing new and were installed early last year in front of the store’s bulk packages of gum.

“The safety and security of our patients, customers and team members remains our priority,” a Walgreens spokesperson said but did not answer questions about theft incidents or theft-deterrent measures at the Walgreens on Geary Boulevard.

Around the time when gum and snacks were first locked up, workers say they often saw more than a dozen thefts a day. They even nicknamed one thief Santa, as he would come in with a sack (a garbage bag) and scoop up entire shelves of products.

“Fifteen, 20 [thefts per day]. Something like that,” one worker said.

Before the packs of nuts and gum were locked up, employees said thieves would frequently clear the shelves of those items.

“They’d take everything,” one said.

While thieves can no longer easily get at the locked-up gum and nuts, other merchandise is still there for the taking.

A security guard said food and drinks are frequently nabbed. Another worker said toilet paper and paper towels are especially popular among thieves, but that everything from tampons to pills has been taken.

“They’ll take anything they can get their hands on,” said the guard.

As a result, shoppers hoping to purchase products ranging from pet food to Pepto Bismol at the Geary Walgreens need to summon a worker to unlock them. Jars of protein powder and fiber supplements, six-pack boxes of 5-Hour Energy shots, four-pack boxes of Monster Energy drinks and boxes of Keurig coffee pods—all require a key to liberate them.

Last Friday, The Standard had to wait about 90 seconds for a worker to unlock a plastic case to buy a bottle of mouthwash.

Cans of soup and chili sit behind locked plexiglass.
Cans of soup and chili sit behind locked plastic at a Walgreens at 5280 Geary Blvd. on Friday. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

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

Reported incidents of theft in the Inner Richmond went up by 9% in 2023 compared with 2022, with 737 theft reports last year compared with 675 theft reports the year before, according to data from the San Francisco Police Department.

But while theft has clearly been a long-standing problem at the Richmond Walgreens, some workers reported that shoplifting has gone down, especially since the store started hiring security guards to patrol the store about five months ago.

The security guard on duty during The Standard’s visit said they see between zero and four thefts daily.

“I’d say four on a bad day,” the guard said.

Perhaps this is why the soup was released from its plastic shackles, and the chains on the freezer were dismissed. Maybe the nuts and gum will soon be freed, too?

We can only hope. Until then, all we can do is push the service button and wait.

READ MORE: San Francisco CVS Store Covers Smashed Entrance With Gift Wrap After ATM Theft

Shampoo and cosmetics are locked behind plexiglass.
Makeup and shampoo are almost entirely locked behind plexiglass at the Walgreens at 5280 Geary Blvd. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Garrett Leahy can be reached at