News Dec 19, 2023 at 3:15 pm

It's Not Unlike a Season of Succession... or Arrested Development

Doomed. Photo by Charles Mudede/Art by Anthony Keo



Thanks Charles. This article started a bit slow, but wow, it picked up speed in the end.

I figured the demise of Bartell's was just your typical big-company-buys-and-guts-small-company story. You know the one. Buy the company with the good reputation. Immediately layoff "redundant" middle management. Start looking for cost savings in the various stores. Then close them eventually, when people realize that the company now sucks, and isn't worth going to. Interesting to read that there is more to the story.

If Kroger buys Albertsons, something similar will happen, although most people go to Albertons because it is cheap (instead of high quality, like Bartell's). Mostly that will be a case of stores closing, and people being asked to pay more, since there will be little competition.


Oh, and I think anyone with any sense knew the crime story was complete bullshit. Holy Shit, Walmart is one of the biggest companies on earth! You think they don't have people trying to steal shit? Get real. Companies hire their own security -- they even sometimes have their own little jail. Repeat offenders get banned from the store. This means that if they steal, they are trespassing, which is a bigger crime. You certainly wouldn't close a large downtown store for that.

But yeah, Bartell's had it's own financial problems, detailed quite well in the Seattle Times article.


And in odd news, Skagit Valley Malting filed for bankruptcy last year, so maybe Kathi Lentzsch likes closing companies?


@1: how do you explain the 130-year run that proceeded this catastrophe, then? Do you not think crime was a problem at any point in that span? Do you really believe it was anything beyond an extremely minor factor here? And are you not fucking disgusted by the endless parade of incompetent, self-interest corporate cannibals who fail upwards over and over and over again?


No mention of Amazon? How ironic (fitting?) is it that their gleaming corporate towers loom almost directly over Bartell's #1. That store was fucking magnificent, filled with a random assortment of things I needed and didn't even know I needed. But it seems that very few people want to step foot into brick and mortar retail anymore. Christmas shopping in downtown Seattle now is nearly impossible. And now Bezos is in Florida, his damage done.


Wrong on several accounts. Bartell was going under. No one else wanted to buy them. It was Rite Aid or nothing. Bartell Drugs left to it’s own devices would have gradually then suddenly gone bankrupt, as Hemingway would say.


@7 phew, it’s a good thing that isn’t happening right now


Bartell’s started closing locations in downtown Seattle long before the merger with Rite-Aid:

“SEATTLE — Local drugstore chain Bartell Drugs says it’s closing a downtown location over crime concerns.

“In March, surveillance video obtained by KIRO 7 showed a group of people who wandered in from the street, knocking items over and harassing employees inside the 3rd and Union location.”


Had it not been for the failed Seattle policies the Stranger loudly championed, Bartell’s might not have declined to the point where a merger with Rite-Aid seemed like a good idea. Charles wrote this post to obfuscate the Stranger’s culpability in Bartell’s decline.


You can't deny that crime and shoplifting is a problem. You also can't deny that Bartell's was skating on thin ice. Of course a company is going to look for external sources to blame when they announce store closures, particularly if they are looking to be purchased.

I've seen people walk out of the Bartell's on Rainier carrying all sorts of things that they didn't pay for, including one guy who threatened the guard with his vicious dog. OTOH, the parking lot is always full and the line for the pharmacy is always halfway down the store, so they must be making money. They finally figured out that they need to limit the entrance and exit.


The fact of the matter is that this particular Bartells no. 1 closed has nothing to do with the Rite Aid take-over despite how fucked up Rite Aids management was. The store was simply losing money and was operating in a hostile environment. It was dangerous to both employees and customers; you may not think so, Charles but watching thieves blatantly steal from your place of employment is very disheartening and creates low morale. People then tend to just give up. But really, Charles, you of all people know that if a capitalist thinks he can make a buck he'll be in there giving it his all; if it's a losing proposition he'll simply walk away. Things are out of control in Seattle and it's getting worse.


@9 just didn't bother to read my post...


I visited the Bartell in Redmond before they announced it's closure and there were absolutely no shoppers. None. How does a store stay open if there is nobody shopping?


@12: I read your post, Charles. Wherein do you explicitly make clear Bartell’s store closures started well before the sale to Rite-Aid? Your post implies otherwise:

“A company that, before 2020, had 61 stores (it's down to 45, and downtown has, for the first time since 1890, no Bartell Drugs location).”

And, as @11 noted, the crime problem downtown never actually went away. How would sale of Bartell’s to Rite-Aid (or anyone else) change that?

If you’d clearly include relevant information in your posts, then we readers would not have to supply it for you. Please don’t blame your readers for your poorly-written posts.


@12 Charles, I've seen you do this somewhat frequently in the comments. Someone criticizes your work, and your response is a pouty "you just didn't understand what I wrote." Why bother commenting at all if you aren't going to address the criticism head on?


@11: I moved to Belltown in 2015, and left four years later. During that time, that was my local pharmacy, and I watched firsthand as it went from a wonderful experience to a dangerous place, right as the adjacent McGraw Park turned into an unsanctioned homeless encampment. (Charles will assure us this was a pure coincidence, that I’m a right-winger, etc.) The staff seemed to keep their spirits up for a long time, but it did visibly wear on them after awhile.

It was a great place, a real asset to the neighborhood (I commuted via Westlake Station myself back then), and I’m sorry it’s gone. Just another sad little example of what Seattle has allowed itself to become, by following the Stranger’s failed policies.


Why don't some people here that mention the uptick in shoplifting also mention that perhaps Bartell's leaned into that to support their crime-is-getting-crazy claim? They had an incentive to allow it to continue instead of taking real measures to reduce it.


@18: First, it wasn’t an “uptick in shoplifting,” it was brazenly obvious, large, and chronic. Second, as even Charles noted, the actual reason given by Bartell’s for closing some downtown stores, and halting downtown expansion plans, was not merely shoplifting, but mostly the repeated assaults upon employees.


@16. It's my party and I cry if I want to...


@10: The only person denying one specific cause here is Charles: “…crime and homeless people had nothing to do with all of these closures.” The rest of us understand there were likely multiple causes for this outcome. The difference is Charles’ explanation has to satisfy two complementary ideological requirements: all of blame must go to the bosses, and none of the blame can go to the Stranger’s advocacy of failed policies. Hence his obfuscation of when Bartell’s started closing stores, and his whiny non-response when I called him on it.

There was never any need for Seattle to tolerate unsanctioned encampments. The reasons it happened will someday fill at least one long academic book, but the approach from then-Mayor Murray’s declaration of crisis onwards should have been simple: either accept the help we offer, or move on from Seattle. How many amongst the campers would have paid, or fought, a citation for illegal camping? Few to none, and there would not now be such great suffering, misery — and overdose deaths — on Seattle’s streets.

Pretending a public-health crisis was a housing-affordability problem has killed a lot of people, continues to kill people, and has helped no one except a parasitic homeless-industrial complex. And the Stranger remains in denial about the whole thing, as Charles’ post demonstrates.


You don't have to take Charles's word for it, everyone's starting to realize the "crime" excuse for retail closures was BS


"How many amongst the campers would have paid, or fought, a citation for illegal camping? Few to none, and there would not now be such great suffering, misery — and overdose deaths — on Seattle’s streets."

tensorna's genius plan:
1. illegal camping citations
2. almost everyone cited ignores it
3. ??????
4. no more suffering, misery, and overdose deaths on Seattle's streets


@23: That’s easy: start enforcing penalties for ignoring laws and citations. I doubt many campers would stick around for jail time.


@22: You might want to look at the underlying evidence — the graph of reported criminal incidents, per location, over time — before you agree with the conclusions. Target had four locations in Seattle; it closed the stores with the second and third highest reported numbers of crimes over the year prior to closure. That hardly makes for a ringing endorsement of Charles’ “crime had nothing to do with it” argument.

Also, in the case of Bartell’s closing downtown stores, it was one specific type of crime, assaults upon employees, which the company cited as the reason for closing those stores. The statistics you cited for Target do not contain the exact type of each crime at each location, so for all we know, the two stores Target closed had the highest numbers of assaults upon employees, and so your example completely agrees with Bartell’s having cited crime as a reason for store closure.

So, you cited a different company, in a different retail sector, in different locations, and yet the conclusion may well be the same as the one you sought to deny. Thanks for playing, and better luck next time.


Thank you, @22. Even King 5 has had enough of this nonsense.


I know Slog commenters love a good bogeyman, but recent studies show that shoplifting has declined nationwide since 2019, much like the crime rate has also declined in recent years. Anecdotal evidence always sounds compelling, and maybe Bartell's former CEO had specific local data to support their decision, but it doesn't change the fact that mismanagement and corporate greed are the main reasons stores close.

And as a postscript, Rite Aid recently had to settle with the FTC for using flawed facial recognition technology that falsely profiled shoplifters:


@27: No one here is saying stores closed for crime, crime, crime, and no reason but crime. We’re saying crime was one of several factors. Corporate mismanagement could definitely be another. (See @10.)

Charles has taken the absolutist position, that crime could not have been a factor in closure of retail stores. That’s both counter-intuitive and proving a negative, and he hasn’t come close to providing evidence sufficient to support either attribute of his claim.

(And, just as we’re talking about Bartell’s, not Target, we’re talking about Seattle, not nationwide.)


@28 Actually, every comment you made above blames the store closures on crime--shoplifting and assaults, specifically. And then you pivoted to blaming the homeless, which you insist is a public-health crisis (read: drugs) and has nothing to do with unaffordable housing, unemployment, mental illness, lack of social services, etc. So who's the absolutist now?

I acknowledge that crime exists in Seattle. I once even witnessed a shoplifter in the Wallingford Bartells, but that was 20 years ago, and somehow that store is still open last I checked. Petty theft, broken windows and homeless encampments are a bummer, but the "Seattle is dying" narrative you're pushing is way overblown. You should be more upset that people are losing their jobs when corporations close stores and give their CEOs huge bonuses. If large corporations like Bartells and Rite Aid can't figure out how to address an issue that has existed as long as retail stores have existed, that should raise eyebrows.


{ eye roll }


@29: “Actually, every comment you made above blames the store closures on crime--shoplifting and assaults, specifically.”

Read harder: “The rest of us understand there were likely multiple causes for this outcome.” (@21)

Also, I did not “pivot” to the homeless; they had already been mentioned, in Charles’ post, which absolutely and unequivocally states as fact that crime and homeless persons were not causes of the closures: “But you should know by now crime and homeless people had nothing to do with all of these closures.”


@3: Yeah. But store security is expensive. And banning repeat offenders will attract claims of discrimination, profiling and complaints about facial recognition systems and privacy. Things that WalMart can afford but a smaller chain of stores with a sickly corporate parent cannot.

The root cause of Bartell's problems may have been it's financial straights. But cutting back on employees on the floor to save money can end up creating security problems and endanger the remaining employees when the ones you let go were doing loss prevention.


@3, @29, @32: While theft from retail establishments has always been a problem, Seattle’s then-City Attorney, Pete Holmes, simply wasn’t doing his job:

“By declining, delaying and ultimately dismissing nearly two out of every three cases transmitted by the Seattle Police Department, the City Attorney’s Office is adversely impacting businesses, chronic victims, police officers and vulnerable defendants.”



@33 Pete Holmes isn't the City Attorney anymore. And if crime, which always has been factored into shrink by retailers, has not increased significantly if at all, then it would not be any part of the reason the store closed, unless you just want to list every expense as "part of the reason" which makes no sense.


@34: “Pete Holmes isn't the City Attorney anymore.”

Which is why a careful reader might have noticed my use of the past tense. You know, to describe the time when Bartell’s started closing downtown stores, the time before Bartell’s merger with Rite-Aid? That time.

“…crime, which always has been factored into shrink by retailers…”

Part of retailers’ anti-shrinking strategy has always been the police removing thieves from stores, and the justice system removing thieves from streets. Seattle simply stopped doing the latter, as the report clearly states. In particular, prolific repeat offenders were not removed:

‘Prolific offenders repeatedly victimize Seattle’s busiest neighborhoods while cycling through the criminal justice system. … they very often committed the same crimes in the same neighborhood over a period of months or years. In some cases, a single individual had 40 or more criminal cases related to a single neighborhood, and often a small multi-block area, over the course of several years. In the most extreme cases, a single individual was responsible for near constant harassment of a business or public establishment over an extended period. Police reports for these incidents often note that the suspect is “well known to officers” and sometimes directly ask for the justice system to provide relief for the community. Instead, the individuals sampled in this report cycled through the criminal justice system with little accountability and no apparent impact on their behavior.’


“…has not increased significantly if at all,”

Your evidentiary basis for that speculative assumption being what, exactly?


so the
Crime WAVE!
was Really the
Succesionist's Son
but if we can bemoan
the Lack of Fascism in America
& just get more & better armed Po-po

life as we know it'd
be Rosy as fuck

with all Profits
going to the
Tiptopy .01

& everyone else
Homeless and
Hopeless and
fighting over

when the
of tS's a Sociopath

you Know
reich wing ascendency's
reached Peak Takeover for USofA.]


More on the “vulnerable defendants” mentioned @33:

“The report acknowledges that jail may not ultimately be the appropriate place to resolve issues that are often the root causes of criminal activity, including mental illness, substance use and/or homelessness. Seattle is a national leader in offering alternative solutions to people struggling with behavioral health disorders that contribute to repeat criminal activity. However, absent a functioning criminal justice system, these programs cannot carry the burden.”



Happy Christmas Adam,
Senator Snore!


@35 when Bartells closed that downtown location they opened another in Belltown. They just moved they didn't reduce locations.

And here's the requested evidentiary basis:


Well we all have a lot of opinions including me but can we just suspend all that for a holiday moment and wish each other well?; i will. I wish all of you well.


More evidentiary basis:

"Notable decreases from pre-pandemic shoplifting prevalence happened in Seattle and St. Louis."


@39: As noted back @9, Bartell’s closed their profitable downtown location because of assaults against employees, not because of shoplifting. They had to give up a primary location downtown due to crime. That they later added another store, one which did not have such a good location, does not mean their profits did not suffer.

@39: Your link reports only on nationwide trends in 2023; it does not mention Seattle. The topic is Bartell’s store closures in Seattle, which started in 2019.

@41: Your link is to nationwide trends in 2023. The story does not mention Seattle (in 2019 or otherwise), but does say that some cities bucked the nationwide trend. Seattle could be one of those cities, and if it is, then this story says the opposite of what you claim.

Once again, the crime which began Bartell’s trend of store closures in 2019 consisted of assaults upon employees, not shoplifting. Your apparent confusion of these two different types of crime does not change this.


@43: My error; the second story does mention Seattle, as you quoted @41. But again, Bartell’s closure trend started pre-pandemic, and that’s when shoplifting rates were higher. There’s nothing in that story about assaults against employees, which is the reason Bartell’s started closing stores back then.

I really do not understand your deep need to deny that shoplifting, and assaults upon store employees, could be two of several factors in store closures.


@43 do you have any stats regarding assaults on employees at that location in 2019 to support your theory? All the objective evidence indicates corporations are lying about crime driving closures, but you're holding onto this one sliver of possible non-BS. Why?


@44: Assaults upon employees were recorded by the store’s security cameras, and reported publicly by KOMO, just as I linked and quoted @9. (Anyone who doubts downtown had become really dangerous back then simply hadn’t walked through it.)

@34: ‘… unless you just want to list every expense as "part of the reason" which makes no sense.’

Um, that’s how accounting works. If the sum total of all expenses exceeds gross income for a quarter, the store lost money that quarter. Enough quarters of losing money and the store will likely be closed. That makes perfect sense.

In the case of assaults upon employees, Bartell’s hired extra security in response. That was an added expense, one which should not have existed, had Seattle kept downtown safe. This made the store less profitable, and therefore less likely to remain in operation.

Again, I do not understand your obsession with denying how street crimes, including assaults upon employees, could be a factor in store closures.


@45 ok so you don't have any statistics


@45: And if we did they’d likely severely under-report the problem anyway. As the report I cited @37 noted, because of the City Attorney’s failure to do his job, by 2019 retailers downtown had effectively stopped reporting most incidents:

“As a result, most organizations stated that they only reported extraordinary incidents to the police. On average, the organizations indicated that they reported to police fewer than one incident per day, and some reported fewer than one per week. Conservatively, that is less than 5 percent of the overall crime they respond to, and a fraction of the total crime that occurs.”

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