Closed sign in shop window

Photo: iStockphoto

 This is Rite Aid’s last day. At Portland and Clifford, on the northeast side, across from the empty bank with the plywood door.


               Today they’re here; tomorrow they’re gone.


               The mayor thinks that’s racism, some kind of economic redlining, the abandonment of urban America by corporate America.


               He’s wrong.


               It’s about theft. Just like the Walgreens at Thurston and Brooks last year. It’s the theft. The wholesale robbery by the armfuls that seems to be seen as an entitlement by some residents of the Flower City.


               It’s not the neighborhoods that are the victims here, it’s the businesses. These national businesses, investing significant amounts of money in Rochester neighborhoods, offering seemingly essential services to residents, have been bled dry by the people they came to serve.


               You wouldn’t know that from any of the reporting on this issue. There’s been the bleating mayor, with his pocket square and press-conference backdrop, and the various folks in the parking lot who got a microphone in the face. He condemned Rite Aid and Walgreens for backstabbing poor people of color and they condemned Rite Aid and Walgreens for leaving people with no place to get their prescriptions.


               And nobody has spoken the truth.


               Which is this: These stores were bankrupted by Rochester lawlessness.


               When crime runs rampant, businesses go running. And you can’t blame them. Rite Aid is not a welfare program, it is not an entitlement. It is not a self-serve reparations facility. It is not a slow-motion looting site. It is a business that needs to turn a profit.


               And it is likely that neither the Portland Avenue Rite Aid nor the Thurston Road Walgreens ever did that. Not because their business model wasn’t reasonable, not that there weren’t enough customers to make it work, but that there were too many thieves to stay afloat. Both stores hemorrhaged merchandise out the front door, with employees forbidden to stop thieves and the criminal justice system powerless to punish them.


               When you defund the police and denounce them as an occupying racist army, when you can’t stop violence and are in the shadow of years of record and near-record homicides, shoplifting doesn’t get addressed. And as the mayor presides over a pro-criminal city administration, with an understaffed police department he and City Council refuse to properly reinforce, theft is not anything City Hall cares about.


               And last year it was Walgreens in one poor corner of the city and this year it’s Rite Aid in the opposite poor corner of the city, both killed by the failures of a city and its people.


               The Rite Aid, as it lives its last day, has plywood over its front doors, after being victim of a smash and grab. On the sidewalk near the entrance, the store has parked a generator trailer with a boom directing four floodlights at the door, trying to dissuade after-hours break-ins.


               Blaming Rite Aid is blaming the victim, and shifting responsibility from a failed city administration to an out-of-town company is the ploy of a mayor in way over his head. He and his administration failed to protect Rite Aid, and now he is using its departure to reinforce the persecution complex that keeps him in power. He fails, and he wins, just like so many other urban demagogues across this county – that’s why so many American cities suck.


               It’s no coincidence that at the same time national retailers are pulling out of Rochester the county sheriff is announcing a historic beefing up of his force, in an effort to stem the overflow of city criminality into the surrounding suburbs and region. As the county executive explained his commitment to paying for those new deputies, and for a center to coordinate countywide police investigations, he cited car thefts, smash and grabs, and violence at schools – all city problems that the mayor has proven incapable of handling.


               When his residents steal cars at record levels – stealing a year’s worth in the first three months of 2023 – he blames the car makers and a social media company. When his residents shoot one another at staggering levels, he blames the gun makers and the people from whom the guns are stolen. And now that he can’t even protect the stores that serve his city, he blames racism and capitalism.


               He’s not exercising leadership, he’s making excuses.


               If he was a leader, he’d stand outside any of the plywood-windowed businesses across his city – from Portland to Genesee to Lyell to West Main – and call out residents for trashing their own neighborhoods, for destroying and stealing and threatening. Businesses are gone, glass is broken, shelves are stolen bare, and that’s the fault of the criminal element that sadly composes an ever-increasing percentage of the Rochester population.


               And the mayor won’t say that out loud, either because he’s not smart enough to know or because he’s not brave enough to say.


               That’s why this city is rotting.


               Because no one calls people to be better than they are. No one condemns the social decay that destroys families and neighborhoods. No one is willing to tell the criminals that they’re not victims.


               Including this mayor and his accomplices on the 6 o’clock news.


               Who aren’t honest enough to say that Rite Aid is leaving because it was shoplifted out of business by the community it came to help.

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