Chad Olcott, co-owner of on Highland Avenue, caught two young shoplifters in his store a few days ago.
Instead of notifying police, Olcott waited until the two elementary school-aged boys left the store with candy in their pockets. Then he confronted them and called their parents.
It's part of Mulberry's three-pronged approach to reducing shoplifting at the market. It seems to be working.
Piedmont Police Det. George Phifer said shoplifting reported to the police department has been “pretty close to nonexistent” in the last two years.
There were no police reports of shoplifting at the store in 2010, he said. Two petty thefts were reported in 2009 and four in 2008.
Olcott said reports are down partly because he doesn’t call police for younger children, who are usually caught stealing candy. Now he calls their parents instead.
It’s more effective to contact the parents of small children, as he did with the two boys recently, Olcott said. Phifer agreed.
“I think the boys learned a big lesson,” Olcott said. “I don’t doubt they were regretful, and I’d like to believe they won’t do it again.”
Olcott and the Mulberry staff have learned a lot about shoplifting since the market opened three years ago.
The Bon Fare market, which occupied the same space prior to the opening of Mulberry's, allowed only a limited number of unaccompanied children in the store at a time, Olcott said. The store now has an open-door policy. At peak times, scores of young people can swarm the market, which includes a deli and a cafe.
At first, Olcott said, he was naïve about the amount of theft that went on. It wasn’t until he and his staff started looking for shoplifters that they saw it happening.
“What’s so depressing about it is … the whole community pays for it” with higher prices, Olcott said.
Olcott didn't want to limit the number of children or teens in the store, but he didn't want shoplifters either.
So, about two years ago, Olcott worked with Piedmont juvenile detectives to change the market's layout in ways that would deter theft.
With the new layout, eight surveillance cameras and new vigilance from the staff, shoplifting by young children and teenagers has decreased, Olcott said.
The cameras were upgraded to show greater detail about a month ago. The live footage, which shows the entire store layout, is beamed into a back room.
“Typically it’s our eyes that catch it,” Olcott said, “but it’s our cameras that confirm it.”
It’s not just children who are tempted to take merchandise. Olcott recalled one man who repeatedly ordered a café mocha and then walked out without paying. A woman "who drove a Mercedes" was caught twice on the surveillance cameras putting items in her purse.
In both cases, Olcott called police. The perpetrators haven't been seen in Mulberry's since, he said.
Olcott said he believes most teens and young children are honest and wouldn’t steal but that some theft is “the nature of the beast.”
“I think they like Mulberry’s and are starting to have a sense of pride in their local grocery store,” he said.