By Lea Mihok
Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, all student names have been changed.
It’s 3:35. School’s out, and the busses have long since dropped students off at the Downtown Transit Center. Teens travel in packs, waiting for another bus or simply enjoying their downtime. They flock in and out of the stores of Church Street Marketplace, under the watchful eyes of wary shopkeepers. Despite the attempts of attentive employees, it can be difficult to notice a straying hand or an expanding backpack, and the students often leave with more than they brought and more than they bought.
According to a 2014 study by the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, there are approximately 27 million shoplifters in the United States. That’s 1 in every 11 people. The same study found that 55% of shoplifters interviewed started in their teens, while some start even earlier.
“I remember the first time I stole something. I think I was like five,” Susan, a BHS freshman, told The Register. “I wanted a Barbie doll and my mom said no. So, I tucked it in my backpack and left.”
Now, Susan has stolen from many other places, including big chains such as Price Chopper and Shaws, local businesses like Homeport, and a wide assortment of gas stations.
“If I want a drink, I’ll steal a drink. If I want food, I’ll steal food,” Susan said.
While this confession may shock some, the items other students admit to taking make stealing snacks look bush league.
John, a sophomore at BHS, said he’d once shoplifted a wallet worth $180.00. He has also taken other items including fanny packs, hats, alcohol, random electronics, and a lot of food.
“I’m honestly just bored. That’s the only reason I shoplift,” John said.
Boredom is a common denominator for the student shoplifters The Register interviewed.
“It’s something to do,” Susan said. “I’ve never been caught, thank god.”
In 2016 the National Retail Federation Trade Group found that shoplifting cost American retailers almost 17.6 billion dollars.
“We definitely feel it,” Mark Bouchett, owner of Homeport said. “I think the biggest challenge for me with teens and the younger group is to remind them that they really are stealing from people. It’s not some faceless corporation. My son works here. My daughter works here. This is how I feed my family.”
Bouchett’s point seems lost on student shoplifters.
“It’s not wrong if you don’t get caught,” Dan, a sophomore at BHS, said.
“If I paid for it I’d go out of business. I couldn’t afford it. We have to increase the price of our goods to cover theft,” Mark Bouchett said.
According to national studies, retailers lose an estimated 6 percent of their stock to shoplifting. Bouchett says he loses about 9 percent.
“My honest caring customers pay for it. That’s who pays for theft, and that’s for every business,” said Bouchett.