The music store owned by Councilwoman Lana Negrete was burglarized for the fourth time in recent years, with a criminal literally returning to the scene of the crime to steal multiple items this past weekend.
Negrete said the store has been in business for 50 years, and while every establishment deals with petty theft, the Music Center has been hit by repeated high-value thefts in recent years. The current wave of thefts began in 2020, when the store was looted during the riots that spread from downtown. They were then robbed in 2021 when thieves smashed a window and stole several guitars used to support the non-profit music charity Negrete operates from the same location. Guitar Center replaced these instruments only to have them stolen just a few months later.
Every theft has its own method. While looters have just broken into the store, some thefts have been surprisingly sophisticated with criminals working carefully to bypass the store’s alarms and motion sensors. Others are more low-tech, using a brick to break the window.
In the latter case, the thief forced his way in through a locked door and appeared to have a shopping list.
“He’s a musician or steals for one,” Negrete said. “He’s been in the store before.”
She said the thief bypassed the more expensive items to steal a keyboard and some accessories, including a high-end cable, before driving off. However, she said the thief actually returned to the store about half an hour later. “He was probably trying to get the adapter for that cable, just looking around the store and looking for it. He was going through $5,000 worth of items just to get what he wanted, it was targeted and he had us out.’
Negrete said the store has experienced almost no theft for most of its history. She said its original location on Lincoln Blvd. it featured a heavy gate that prevented easy access. Although the store had one robbery during the day in the early days, the frequency of thefts today is unprecedented.
The business is renting the location and does not have permission from the landlord to install heavier security options such as bars or metal screens. Negrete said he is negotiating with the landlord to finally get permission to protect his business, but at a cost.
“It’s going to cost $23,000 to put in the cheapest doors and bars,” she said. “Even if the landlord decides to approve one of the options, I have to pay for it.”
She said criminals are becoming more brazen in their actions.
“We’re going through more than that,” she said. “They’re either smarter about it or they just don’t care about the alarm, it doesn’t stop them, it takes them two minutes or less to grab something and run.”
The move would be more expensive with costs estimated at $350,000 to relocate.
“It’s just very expensive to be a brick and mortar that’s not part of a chain these days,” she said.
The store was founded 50 years ago by Negrete’s father, Chico Fernandez, who dreamed of opening a practice space and photography studio for local musicians to play, record, take lessons, shoot album covers and share music with the community.
The Music Center has evolved over the years, with Chico’s brother Victor introducing the now integral retail store and Chico’s daughter, Lana, founding a non-profit organization based on Chico’s values of community and sharing the love of music. The store also moved from its original storefront on Lincoln Boulevard to a larger space at 1901 Santa Monica Boulevard.
The business has a second location in Culver City, which is relatively crime-free, but Negrete said theft is a huge problem for any retail business right now.
“It was a more targeted theft,” she said of this week. “But it happens everywhere. National music stores are becoming more and more successful. Retailers where larger, higher priced items are stored during the day and then returned.
The loss is magnified for small retailers who don’t have the benefits of corporate write-offs, as insurance companies often don’t pay for theft at all due to deductibles, pay radically less than the value of vintage equipment, and can take months to secure any payment , which they will cover.
According to the US Chamber of Commerce, 54% of small business owners experienced an increase in shoplifting in 2021.
“Retail theft is becoming a national crisis, hurting businesses in every state and the communities they serve,” said Neil Bradley, chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The average large retailer lost $700,000 per $1 billion in sales by 2020 — an increase of more than 50% over a five-year period, according to the National Retail Federation.
Nationally, much of the crime is attributed to organized theft groups, and officials say robberies often involve violence or threats. According to the National Retail Federation’s 2022 Retail Security Survey, 8 in 10 retailers reported increased incidents of violence and aggression in the past year, with national losses totaling nearly $100 billion.