Shoplifting hits home at Mulberry’s

Julie Reichle

Mulberry's Market has served as a central gathering place for the community since it opened in 2007.

Mulberry’s Market has been serving Piedmont for 14 years. Owners Chad Olcott, Laura Pochop, and Virginia Davis opened the independent grocery store on Highland Avenue to serve the community, including the schools located nearby.

However, that location has proved troublesome the last few months. Olcott said that shoplifting has jumped from him catching a couple of kids per month to 20 since the new year started.

“It is unbelievable how many shoplifters we have caught in the last couple of months,” Olcott said. “During COVID, the number of shoplifters went down because of the number of kids in the store went down. When I walk into my shop and see a bunch of kids, I’m not happy now. What is going wrong? What is going on?”

If you go by media reports, shoplifting is surging all over the Bay Area. The data doesn’t always back that up. Videos of shoplifters in San Francisco led to claims Walgreen’s was shutting down several stores due to the “surge.” However, the company had announced the store closures in an SEC filing two years ago. San Francisco Police Department data showed no recent increase in shoplifting other than one Target store that changed how it reported incidents in September. Reports of shoplifting in the city have been dropping for 30 years.

High-profile “smash-and-grabs” at high-end department stores also happened in Walnut Creek and Concord along with San Francisco on a weekend in November.

Olcott said he doesn’t want a police response. Instead, he identifies the culprits by sight or on video and confronts them and sits down with their parents. The perpetrators are 10-18 years old, Olcott said. Most of what is taken is food, from something small thrown in a pocket to sandwiches prepared at the deli.

“It takes a lot of time,” Olcott said about combating the theft. “It’s a teachable moment.”

Occasionally, he will confront the kids immediately.

“I caught a group of kids that were in high school,” Olcott said. “I went outside and yelled at the top of my lungs. One of the parents wrote me an email saying my yelling was quite frightening to the girls. I said, ‘If you don’t want me to yell, don’t steal!’”

Olcott said most of the parents respond positively when he meets them to talk about what their child has done.

“I end up sitting down with a kid and the family and I give my speech,” he said. “Sometimes the kid cries, sometimes the mom cries, sometimes the dad cries. I’ll tell you that for the most part the families are really supportive when their kids are caught.”

Olcott also noted the demographics and economics in Piedmont aren’t the same as in other areas. He chooses not to involve the police. Kids shoplifting elsewhere don’t get that benefit.

“This is a town of privilege,” he said. “I’m not saying I know everybody’s story but this [shoplifting] is not due to duress.”

Piedmont police Capt. Chris Monahan said the police will help when asked. He said adding “extra staff, limited access, cameras, and signage are the best deterrents. Mulberry’s is tough because there is so much merchandise in such a small area.”

“We try to keep the backpacks outside,” Olcott said. “Limiting the number of kids in my store, that’s a bummer. The town isn’t going to want to do that. I’ve been trying to avoid that but that’s something we might have to do.”

Olcott said when the store opened, he had kids attending Piedmont schools and the fact the kids in town knew his kids may have kept shoplifting down. Now, his kids are almost grown (his youngest is a senior in high school).

“When I walk in, they don’t know me,” he said. “I look like a customer. They’re not stealing from a family they know. So that makes it OK.”

He continued, “I feel like the town needs to know. At some point, I need the parents tell their kids this is not OK.”

7 thoughts on “Shoplifting hits home at Mulberry’s

  1. Getting the police involved might be a stronger deterrent – sends a message that you will be treated like everyone else who steals.. know what it’s like to talk with a police offer.

    They seem to be getting special treatment, which kids of privilege often get.

  2. When my kids were old enough to walk into Mulberrys without parental supervision I sat them down and told them that if they ever stole from Mulberry’s I would disown them. I told them furthermore if I got a call from the store that they were caught stealing I would not come down to hash it out with Chad. I would kindly ask the store to refer my kids to the police station They knew I was serious. Tough love people. Disclaimer. I most likely would not disown my kids, but the part about calling the cops….absolutely.

  3. I am a store manager at Sunshine Foods Market in Saint Helena CA. A small family owned specialty foods market in the Napa Valley. I am also a graduate of Piedmont High School and am familiar with your store location I completely empathize with you Chad. We had a significant spike in theft from the local high school kids a few years back and went so far as to have our local school liaison police officer come in and get her lunch at the same time as the high schoolers. Her presence alone deterred a good majority of them for a while but it was not something we could do on an ongoing basis. Saint Helena is similar in that it is a privileged community and the majority of these kids have the money to pay for their items. So it seems to be a thinking problem, not a money problem. If you find any solid solution to this problem please share them with us here at Sunshine Foods. If we find something that works we will be sure to pass it along as well.

    • Hey Graham, this is Laura, Chad’s wife and co-owner of Mulberry’s. Just wanted to say that Sunshine was extremely helpful to us back in 2006 when we were getting Mulberry’s off the ground; you guys were generous with your time and gave us great suggestions! If we crack the code of young shoplifters we’ll definitely get in touch. Thanks for the solidarity and for your help over the years.

  4. I love Mulberry’s and I love the people there – the high quality service reflects how well the staff is treated. It’s a shame that shoplifting is hitting them hard. This does not have anything to do with the rise in theft, but I really wish that Mulberry’s would post their prices for their items. This is certainly a town of privilege, but a way to combat that is knowing what things cost. Having said that, I understand that the thefts are due to other issues.
    I guess I’m just saying, I wish I didn’t have to ask how much something costs at the counter. It’s embarrassing and it assumes that I don’t care. But I do, I am always assessing grocery costs.
    Anyways I appreciate having our grocery store.

    • Hi Liz, this is Laura from Mulberry’s. Thanks so much for the feedback. We need to do better on prices and I really appreciate you bringing it up. We had a project over the summer to put price labels on every single product on the shelves and definitely didn’t achieve our goal, but we’re working on it and know it’s important. Thanks for being such a supportive and understanding customer. We’ll try to do better!

  5. Go get ‘em Chad!! I think it’s great if a Piedmont kid gets a little scared from you yelling at them, they’re lucky not to be turned into the police.

Leave a Reply

The Exedra comments section is an essential part of the site. The goal of our comments policy is to help ensure it is a vibrant yet civil space. To participate, we ask that Exedra commenters please provide a first and last name. Please note that comments expressing congratulations or condolences may be published without full names. (View our full Comments Policy.)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *