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Chicago’s Brandon Johnson, Grocery Mogul

This is just the beginning. I'm hoping to buy my next car from the Chicago Teachers Union at their new factory on Chicago South Side.

Chicago’s Brandon Johnson, Grocery Mogul

Will the progressive mayor be willing to stop shoplifting at his government-run stores?

By The Editorial Board, WSJ

Sept. 24, 2023 6:08 pm ET

Journal Editorial Report: The week's best and worst from Kim Strassel, Mene Ukueberuwa and Kyle Peterson. Images: AP/Getty Images/Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

Chicago’s politicians can’t keep the streets safe or stop rampant shoplifting, so what’s a good progressive to do? Well, why not get into the grocery business?

Mayor Brandon Johnson said recently the city that used to work should consider opening government-run food stores because “all Chicagoans deserve to live near convenient, affordable, healthy grocery options.” He’s upset that at least six grocery stores have closed in the past two years on the city’s South and West sides.

Has Mr. Johnson considered why the stores are closing? In 2016 then-mayor Rahm Emanuel stood beside Whole Foods Co. CEO Walter Robb to celebrate the opening of the new store in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. The two cheered greater access to fresh fruit and vegetables and a healthy anchor for the community. By 2022 it had closed.

The city had subsidized the store with $11 million in tax financing, according to local PBS news station WTTW. But that wasn’t enough. After the closing in 2022, Whole Foods said the company “regularly evaluate(s) the performance and growth potential of each of our stores” in order to “position Whole Foods Market for long-term success.”

Walmart closed four stores in Chicago because they were losing tens of millions of dollars a year, and CEO Doug McMillon said annual losses had doubled in the past five years.

The problem isn’t corporate racism. It’s crime. In 2022 Chicago reported 54,000 thefts and a mere 4% resulted in an arrest. Of the 8,730 retail thefts, there were 1,450 arrests, or less than 17%, according to Wirepoints and the Chicago city data portal.

Chicago’s arrest rate for retail theft fell to 16.6% in 2022 from 42.5% in 2019. Retailers say there is little they can do when groups of people walk into their stores, grab arm-loads of merchandise and walk out with impunity.

No doubt Chicago’s government will bring its legendary efficiency to the grocery business, though we hope it does better than it does running the failure factories that are its public schools. But we wonder what Mr. Johnson will do to prevent theft at his government grocery chain. Will he consider the losses to be merely the cost of doing good socialist business?

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