From CSP’s editor: Prepare for the worst

The need to address violent crime in convenience stores has reached new levels
Steve Holtz of CSP/Winsight
Image by CSP Staff

We’ve avoided it for years … decades, even. Convenience stores and gas stations have long stood near the top of the FBI’s list of businesses most susceptible to violent crime.

In just five years, the number of incidents of violent crime has doubled in both c-stores and gas stations (the FBI differentiates the two). Trailing only common spaces such as homes, streets, sidewalks and parking lots, c-stores are the most likely place for violent crimes to happen. Second! Gas stations rank fifth, behind hotels and “unknown” locations.

Common knowledge, perhaps, but as an industry trade publication, we’ve largely sidestepped the subject. With our directive firmly entrenched in helping retailers grow their businesses and sell more stuff—from gasoline and tobacco to candy and beverages—we’ve mostly avoided reporting the statistics and the challenges that violent crime play in c-stores.

That stops with this issue of CSP magazine.

Sobering Statistics

With a nationwide increase in violent crimes and mass shootings, the need to address the issue has reached beyond the level of needing to be top of mind.

In 2021, the FBI recorded 694,050 violent crimes in the United States, 121,373 of them robberies, compared to 73,328 robberies in 2016. In c-stores, 22,838 violent crimes were reported in 2021 (the most recent data available), and in gas stations, 14,753.

For all the pontificating we put to becoming an employer of choice in these days of record-low unemployment, perhaps these crime statistics don’t get the attention they deserve.

Our story about dealing with violence is a cross-channel report with our sister publication Winsight Grocery Business. That decision was made last spring, when 10 people were shot to death in a Tops Friendly Markets grocery store in Buffalo in May.

It was soon after that the WGB editor-in-chief and I agreed we needed to raise an alarm about the growing challenge and gravity of violent crime in retail.

Since then, three people were killed in a Safeway store in Oregon in August, and six killed in a Walmart in Virginia in November. In fact, there were nearly 650 mass shootings—generally defined as incidents in which four or more people are injured or killed—reported in the U.S. in 2022, in malls, in nightclubs, in subway cars and in schools. Regardless of your opinions on gun control, that’s unacceptable!

I haven’t reviewed every one of the incidents, but near as I can tell, mass shootings have sidestepped c-stores—so far. As a watcher of industry news, however, I can tell you that one-off shootings and robberies happen in or near our stores every day.

Stay or Go

It scares some employees away. Others, it seems to motivate. As noted in our cover story, Tom Hart was robbed at gunpoint early in his career in c-stores. Unharmed, he came back for his next shift, however.

In fact, it led to a career in convenience retailing that includes a stint as chief operating officer of the Store 24 chain of 80 units in Massachusetts. Sold off in 2002, Hart now leads training for Ready Training Online to help retailers work through crises and other business challenges.

“It was a harrowing experience,” he says in gross understatement in our February cover story.

Our story catalogs several instances from the past year when retailers closed stores—some permanently—to avoid becoming part of the statistics. I’m hopeful the story accomplishes a couple of things.

  1. I hope it gives readers some ideas to prepare their employees for the possibility and eventuality of an armed robbery.
  2. I hope it sparks continued conversation of the challenges of armed robberies in c-stores.

As brick-and-mortar locations that are often open 24 hours a day and serve 160 million customers per day, per NACS, there’s a lot to worry about. Planning ahead could be the difference between property loss and loss of life.

Steve Holtz is editor-in-chief of Winsight’s Convenience Group. Reach him at sholtz@winsightmedia.com.



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