Shops struggle with petty thefts

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Shops struggle with petty thefts

Cafe owners in Korea these days have more than coffee bean prices and profits to worry about.

“Last month, an old lady grabbed bunches of straws from the bar, and when I tried to stop her, she yelled, ‘These products are for the customers to use anyway!’” said Jang Mi-yeon, owner of Cafe Mori in Jongno District, central Seoul. She says she limits the number of straws and napkins she places at the bar to the least number possible, even if it means she then needs to constantly replenish them.

Similarly, Starbucks in Korea is suffering from the routine disappearances of its mugs.

“By the time we close every day, we are always missing two to three mugs,” said a staff member who works at a Starbucks coffee shop in Hyehwa-dong, central Seoul. “The cafe is three stories high, but the staff works on the first floor, so even when some customers smuggle out mugs or straws, we have no way of finding out.”

“The customers may think it acceptable to take all the straws and napkins they want since they paid for their drinks, but everything in a shop is the result of the blood, sweat and tears of its owners,” said a store owner of a franchise coffee shop.

The locations where customers commit random acts of thefts are not limited to cafes.

Kim Sang-heon, who owns a fitness center in Yeoksam-dong, southern Seoul, ordered 1,000 new workout clothes for men and women last October. In six months, 90 outfits for men and 40 for women had disappeared. Kim had paid about 35,000 won ($30) for each outfit.

For cafe owners, it is difficult to stop customers from taking an unreasonable number of straws, napkins or sugar packets, as these are items furnished for customer use, and authorities cannot label such actions as theft.

But stealing items like workout clothes from gyms, silverware from restaurants and toiletries from motels clearly crosses the line of what is legal.

Yet many owners and managers of motels and gyms are having difficulty cracking down on these minor acts of theft because many of them happen in areas like bathrooms or locker rooms, where it would be out of the question for them to install CCTV cameras.

Motel managers have devised different ways to stop their guests from stealing toiletries, such as by putting security tags on lotion and shampoo bottles, only to find their guests one step ahead of them - they empty the contents into bottles they brought themselves.

“Many of the goods being stolen are low-priced, so people think it’s okay to take them,” said Gong Jung-sik, professor of criminal psychology in Kyonggi University. “Customers take these items because they know they’ll use them in their daily lives.”

“These random and small acts of theft tend to occur more when the economy is not so good,” added Gong.

BY JEONG JIN-WOO [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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