Liquor Mart thefts plummet 97.5% at stores once reeling from brazen shoplifters

The number of Manitobans boldly grabbing armfuls of alcohol and walking past staff without paying is now small compared to the thousands of thefts reported during an epidemic of liquor-store lawlessness in 2019. 

A year after the dramatic shoplifting spike, new glass-cordoned entrances preventing customers from entering without showing their photo identification have been installed in all 43 planned locations. The number of thefts has plummeted.

The five Liquor Marts hardest hit by the spate of shoplifting reported 2,633 thefts in the six months before their controlled entrances were installed. 

In the six months afterwards, those stores counted just 66 thefts — a 97.5 per cent decrease.

“All of us at Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries are pleased with the results the controlled entrances have had in significantly reducing the incidents of thefts — and especially robberies — at our Liquor Marts,” president and CEO Manny Atwal said in a statement. 

“To be able to return our stores to a place where our customers and employees are able to shop and work without the looming threat of violence has been a great relief.”

Dozen thefts a week a sharp drop

The thefts still happening — an average of 12 incidents a week, Liquor and Lotteries said — bear little resemblance to the brazen, violent thefts that circulated on social media in amateur videos of people stealing large quantities of product, stashing them in bags and often threatening violence. Staff was instructed not to intervene due to safety concerns.

When thefts do occur, the agency has been able to provide police with identification information.

At its peak in Aug. 2019, Liquor Marts reported 462 thefts in a single week.

Customers must show ID at a security station at 43 Liquor Mart locations before they are allowed through the locked inner doors. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries finished installing the new controlled entrances — all 36 Liquor Marts in Winnipeg, as well as the four stores in Brandon, two in Portage la Prairie and one in Selkirk — last month. Customers have to show photo ID at a security station before being allowed inside through a locked inner door.

The Crown corporation unveiled plans for the secured entrances in Nov. 2019, the same night a disturbing video emerged of a hooded assailant punching a Tyndall Park store employee in the face. The woman was sent to hospital, and the store was closed as the secure entrance was built.

Atwal said Monday the unprovoked attack “only strengthened our resolve to have Liquor Marts again be a safe environment for all.”

The reduced thefts are also reflected in fewer inventory losses.

In the last nine months of 2019, $2,315,000 worth of liquor store inventory was forfeited through shrinkage, which describes what is lost due to factors such as shoplifting, vendor fraud, employee theft and administrative error.

For the same time period in 2020, the shrinkage was calculated at $193,000.

Customers leave messages of support in Nov. 2019 for the victims of a violent robbery at the Tyndall Park liquor store. (John Einarson/CBC)

The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union said store employees feel safe with the new security measures in place, which also bars minors from entering.

“They’re not having nightmares at night. They’re not going home shaking, and they’re not scared to be in the liquor store working anymore,” MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said.

She wants her members at all Liquor Mart stores to feel that same level of safety. Twenty stores are so far not equipped with these entrances.

“Whether you’re in Selkirk, Steinbach, wherever you are, you [should] have the security and the knowledge of having a very controlled place to be able to purchase your alcohol and know that you’re safe in doing so,” Gawronsky said.

Flin Flon wants controlled entrance

She was told a spate of shoplifting occurred late last year in Flin Flon. Local RCMP responded to five liquor store thefts in a week in late November and early December, the Flin Flon Reminder reported.

Flin Flon MLA Tom Lindsey was told by a constituent that a masked individual quickly entered the store, stole bottles and ran back outside before the automatic door closed.

He wrote to the liquor store manager to ask if a secured entrance would help.

In a letter to Lindsey that was shared with CBC News, Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton said MLLC is constantly monitoring the type and frequency of crime at their stores, while evaluating the possibility of any new measures.

Lindsey said the secure entrances are worth the investment. MLLC expects the final cost of the 43 installations to be under the $2.5-million budget that was set for them, a spokesperson said.

“You can sit and watch robberies happen and do nothing about it, or you can recognize that the potential is there and take action to protect people,” Lindsey said.

Liquor and Lotteries said it commissioned a poll from Leger Research, which found 89 per cent of people interviewed, either on-location or through random phone interviews last spring, supported the new entrance procedures.