Opinion: Shoplifting doesn’t just hurt local businesses

Stealing from downtown retail is not worth the damage it can do to a student’s opportunities and the local economy.


People stroll on the Pedestrian Mall on March 17. Restaurants and bars in town hosted a number of deals for the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. (The Daily Iowan/Ben Smith)

Becca Bright, Columnist

I work part-time at a woman-owned business in the downtown area. It’s truly a special place in Iowa City: a retail store that networks on fair trade and vintage clothing as well as the skills and production of local artists. The store not only supports its employees and its own market, but it also nurtures a community of creatives and freelancers.

You can imagine why it is so frustrating when customers — particularly students — shoplift.

For various financial or social reasons, students will steal, or at least try. Of course, stores such as mine have their own protocols to prevent shoplifting. However, it’s important to realize that shoplifting hurts students far more than it does local businesses. Employees and artists will still be paid. Established businesses can survive a few thefts; individual students can’t.

It is very likely that if a customer attempts to steal something, they will probably be caught, affecting them negatively — not only in regards to where they can shop, but to their public record among local businesses. Let’s say you steal from a local retailer. You’re caught, and the action is recorded and shared. If you apply for a job at another local business in Iowa City, doubt will likely be cast on that application because of your record.

There are legal consequences to the theft as well. According to Student Legal Services, stores can pursue action that requires shoplifters to pay for items taken. Depending on the value of the stolen goods, a person convicted of theft faces a simple-misdemeanor charge or possibly a Class-C felony. If the theft occurs under the purview of the University of Iowa, students can face fines, probation, and even expulsion.

All of that sounds scary in the abstract, but it isn’t just hypothetical; this happens in real life, too. A couple of weeks ago, a young woman wearing a bright Iowa class of 2023 T-shirt made her way to the counter to buy two hair clips. As I rang her up, she laughed to herself, paused, and then said she was certain that people had been shoplifting the hair clips. I stared at her. She explained that it would be easy to steal one or two clips because they were so small and their location on display was in a blind spot from the front counter. She assured me, that while she had considered the act herself, she had decided not to. The shop was “too sweet to steal from.” To say the least, I was stunned by what I hesitate to call her honesty.

As I slid two $4 hair clips across the counter back to her, I told her that if she had stolen them and I had caught her, she would be banned from our store. I would have to write out a record of her theft and share it with other local businesses, so they would know to be watchful of her presence in their store. It would not be a great way to kick off a living experience in a college town.

A look of embarrassment glazed over her face, and I have not seen her in the store since. Would stealing those hair clips really have been worth it in the end?

I argue absolutely not — not only as an employee of a local business, but as a student myself who cares for her community and her presence in that community. It sucks to have to worry if someone will steal a print that a friend of yours designed. It makes the job stressful, and it also brings personal distress knowing that the works of friends and artists are being abused.

Again, as a student I can sympathize to a degree with the potential intentions of shoplifting from retail. Maybe you’re broke, but you really want to give your friend a birthday gift or you are in desperate need of new clothes, but you don’t have money right now.

Regardless of the circumstances, I insist that it is simply not worth stealing. Managing finances while dealing with college living can be complicated, but coping with the difficulties by shoplifting would likely cause you difficulty in finding a job or shopping at a store you like. Shoplifting should not be the ideal solution; it should always be avoided.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.