Oregon’s booze thieves are getting bolder. Shoplifting at state liquor stores has skyrocketed and is only getting worse, data from the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission shows.
“I’m trying to scream and shout from the rooftops,” says Dan Miner, owner of two Portland liquor stores. “This stuff is on the rise, and no one’s doing anything about it.”
WW obtained a list of crimes reported to the OLCC at state liquor stores. In 2018, there was just under $16,000 in shoplifting reported to the agency. Two years later, that number had tripled.
Saleem Noorani, president of the liquor stores’ trade group, says this number represents just a small fraction of total theft, most of which is never caught. Thieves know that “nine times out of 10, I’ll get away with it,” Noorani says.
He blames state law for not posing more of a deterrent. Petty theft is a misdemeanor. “Legislatively, something needs to be done,” Noorani says, noting that when store owners report a theft, taxpayers foot the bill.
In some cases, the robberies have been brazen. Miner showed WW a video in which a thief brandished a pistol and walked out of his Northeast Portland store with its cash box.
Armed robbers have hit Miner’s stores three times this summer alone. “Someone’s going to get hurt,” he says. He blames a lack of police response during the 2020 riots, when liquor stores reported a series of burglaries totaling more than $100,000 in losses.
As WW has previously reported, armed robberies of cannabis stores have become a regular occurrence in Portland (“Grass at Gunpoint,” WW, July 27). But Miner’s experience notwithstanding, the OLCC has recorded few liquor store robberies. And burglaries are down from their 2020 peak. It’s booze shoplifting, when thieves grab liquor off the shelf during store hours, that’s continued to increase. In fact, this year thefts are on a record pace.
There were 465 reported shoplifting incidents in 2021. By August of this year, there were already 450. Around half were in Portland, according to a WW analysis of the OLCC’s statewide data.
Thieves have been caught on camera walking out of stores with entire cases of alcohol, valued at over $300.
Emails obtained by WW from the OLCC give a hint where those bottles go after they leave the building—in some cases, they’re resold online or in the parking lots of other nearby liquor stores.
In July, an OLCC manager emailed a photo of a suspect and wrote: “This guy was selling Don Julio to customers in the parking lot at Menlo Park [Liquor].”
Last week, he sent another email saying he had “found Facebook pages with them selling stolen goods and getting orders for their shopping sprees.” In the email chain, a Portland police detective promised to help work the case.
The Portland Police Bureau declined to comment on the ongoing investigation. A spokesman for the bureau noted it’s hiring more officers to help address the recent crime wave. “Seeing a police officer near the corner store someone wants to rob makes them think twice,’ Lt. Nathan Sheppard says.
Later this month, Miner and Noorani plan to present data to the OLCC board highlighting the scope of the problem.
Agency spokesman Mark Pettinger says the OLCC is aware of the problem and is working with law enforcement to help track down suspects.
If crime keeps up, shop owners will be forced to install bulletproof glass and other protections common in cities like Chicago, Noorani says.
He hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“Oregon is not like that. Oregon has never been like that,” he says. “We have to do whatever we can to retain that flavor of Portlandia.”