NEW YORK — Locking doors between customers, hiding expensive merchandise in the back, and posting photos of thieves on top of the fridge. That’s how Peter Panayiotou says he has to do business now.
“I had a guy with the suitcase in the corner here filling the suitcase and he tried to walk out with it so I emptied the bottles and I threw his suitcase on 10th Avenue for de Blasio to pick up,” said Panayiotou, owner of Cellar 53 Wine & Spirits in Hell's Kitchen.
Frustrated by all city leaders, past and present, liquor store owner Panayiotou said in the last year and a half shoplifting has become rampant and the criminals are more brazen.
In surveillance video from Jan. 29 he says a woman with the hooded jacket pulls out a bottle she hid in her jacket in a bag and pays for something inexpensive. He says he didn’t notice she stole until she left, but when he does catch someone he has a plan.
“I let them walk past the counter and then I lock the door. Most of the time they give it back to me, other times they wanna fight” said Panayiotou.
According to the NYPD, the city has seen a jump in retail theft complaints. In 2019, there were 37,918 complaints. That number dropped to 32,358 in 2020. But in 2021, police received 43,864 complaints.
Petit larceny is generally taking property worth under $1,000. According to NYPD crime statistics, Manhattan south has seen the largest increase in petit larceny so far in 2022 — a 57.8% increase compared with the same time last year.
NYPD Chief of Crime Control Strategies Michael Lipetri said the increase is fueled by recidivism.
“When we came out of the COVID lockdowns we really saw a large increase in shoplifting all across the city. The borough of Manhattan has seen the sharpest increase,” said Lipetri. “In the borough of Manhattan last year, we identified over 250 individuals that were arrested three or more times at the same location. If we expand that to not include the same location, we arrested over 500 individuals for shoplifting three or more times.”
Panyitou blames state bail reform laws, which in 2019 eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges. Critics of the changes say they have created a revolving door for criminals.
“So anybody can just go into any store and steal and just walk away with it and the police just let them go," said Panayiotou.
In February, Mayor Eric Adams asked the state legislature to give judges bail discretion based on a defendant’s “dangerousness.” But state lawmakers were unmoved, with progressive Democrats saying that could open the door to the bias that bail reform was meant to eliminate — judges potentially holding Black and brown people in jail more frequently than white defendants.
Panayiotou said he wants thieves, regardless of their color, to be held in jail and for the government to take action so he doesn’t have to.
“I just have to take matters in my own hands and take back what they take from me one way or another," said Panayiotou.
The NYPD said it has increased patrols in business districts across the five boroughs.