The founder of a popular clothing and gear outfitter wrote a scathing goodbye letter to San Francisco, saying he’s pulling out because the city has “descended into a city of chaos.”
Cotopaxi CEO Davis Smith said near-daily brazen robberies, constant vandalism, and fears for the safety of his employees have left him no choice but to shutter the store he opened “in a charming shopping district” a year ago. The city’s refusal to do anything about theft and safety makes it impossible to run the business, he said.
“Our team is terrified,” Smith wrote in a lengthy note posted on LinkedIn. “They feel unsafe. Security guards don’t help because these theft rings know that security guards won’t/can’t stop them. It’s impossible for a retail store to operate in these circumstances, especially when cities refuse to take any action (despite us paying taxes well above any other state we operate in).”
“As of today, we are closing the store due to rampant organized theft and lack of safety for our team,” Smith wrote. “Our store is hit by organized theft rings several times per week. They brazenly enter the store and grab thousands of dollars of product and walk out.”
Several businesses have left San Francisco since the state reduced the penalty for shoplifting under $950 worth of goods amid a surge in homelessness, public drug use, and crime. Countless viral videos have shown shoplifters emptying store shelves into garbage bags and walking out of stores as security guards watch.
Cotopaxi, named for an active volcano in the rugged Andes Mountains of Ecuador, is a competitor of Patagonia that sells outdoor clothing and gear and touts its commitment to the environment, global hunger, and other causes. But Smith, who founded the Utah-based company in 2014, said his business never had a chance in the City by the Bay.
During the first week the store was open at 549 Hayes St., thieves smashed its windows and looted it. Smith said he had the windows replaced four times before finally putting up plywood. The store tried keeping its doors locked during business hours, allowing only shoppers to enter. But Smith said organized teams would send in a woman to pose as a customer, then sneak in behind her to steal.
Smith, who grew up in Latin America, said he and his wife have gotten first-hand tastes of the city’s spiral into lawlessness. He described a recent visit, saying his rental car was broken into. When he called police, they blamed him for parking on the street, he said.
Another time, he wrote, “a drugged up person ran up to my wife’s face and started screaming some of the most obscene things I’ve ever heard. She was terrified.”
“It’s sad, but San Francisco appears to have descended into a city of chaos,” Smith wrote. “Many streets and parks are overrun with drugs, criminals, and homelessness, and local leadership and law enforcement enable it through inaction.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that San Francisco reduced the penalty for shoplifting. It was California Proposition 47.