The Tyndall Market Liquor Mart reopened its significantly more secure doors Wednesday, a week after a violent armed robbery sent one employee to hospital and shuttered the Winnipeg store.
The Liquor Mart in the strip mall at the corner of Keewatin Street and Burrows Avenue is the first in the province to be outfitted with a controlled entrance as part of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp.'s attempt to deter theft and better ensure safety for employees and patrons.
Meanwhile, the young employee who was attacked last week said the robbery has changed her life.
"I am afraid I will never be the same because of what happened (Nov. 20) and I know I am not alone," Randi Chase, 26, told media gathered at the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union headquarters. "I’m ultimately here to be a voice for the many individuals who have also experienced these traumatic events.
"I know I am only one employee, in one of the many Liquor Marts in the city, in a province of thousands of workplaces, but I'm going to try to do my best advocate for the others."
MLL plans to roll out secure entrances at all of its Winnipeg locations in the coming weeks. For the past two years, Liquor Marts across the city have been inundated with thieves brazenly loading up on bottles of booze and fleeing the stores. Winnipeg police say between 10 and 30 such incidents were reported daily.
Now at the Tyndall Market Liquor Mart, two security guards stationed behind hardened glass in a secured booth greet customers. Before they are able to enter the store, they have to show valid photo identification, no matter their age.
Guards scan the ID card to check validity, age, and whether a customer has been banned from a Liquor Mart in the past.
If everything checks out, the guard returns the card, and presses a button to release the door to the sales floor.
Darrell Barton was one of the first customers to experience the new controlled access, when he dropped by to pick up a case of beer.
"I like it. I think it’s going to be very positive," Barton said Wednesday. "Up to this point, my wife was scared to go into the stores."
Barton said the changes added just 45 seconds to his trip and believes they have the potential to curb thefts.
"It all depends on how the security is; if you want to get through that glass, are you going to be able to? I don’t know, but at least they can say, ‘No, you’re not going to come in,’ and try to stop them that way," he said.
Minors, including small children, are no longer allowed in Liquor Marts, even when accompanied by a parent or guardian, the MLL said. While the controlled accesses are being introduced to the public, police will be at stores.
The MLL did not make a spokesperson available for an interview Wednesday, and did not provide information about the costs associated with updating entrances at all 31 city locations, as well as staffing costs.
"As a modern retailer, we have tried to balance employee and customer safety with an enjoyable shopping experience. Unfortunately, the brazen thefts that have inundated us over the last 18 months has left us no option but to take these drastic measures," the MLL said in a statement.
"The robbery in itself is one thing, but what I want to address is the response. I quickly realized that I did not have the tools to effectively handle and safely de-escalate a situation similar to last Wednesday." - Randi Chase
In a memo sent to MLL employees, executive vice-president of liquor operations Robert Holmberg said staff should continue to use non-violent crisis intervention techniques to protect those within the store and not try to interrupt a theft.
"While no employee should ever intervene in a theft or unnecessarily put themselves in harm’s way by provoking or engaging with a thief, employees do have the right to protect themselves should the situation warrant it," Holmberg said.
During the Tyndall Park robbery last week, Chase was behind the counter when an assailant (alleged by police to be a 15-year-old male) punched her, knocking her to the ground. She was rushed to hospital in critical condition and later upgraded to stable. The punch left her with a concussion and ruptured eardrum.
She said Wednesday she felt ill-equipped to handle the situation.
"The robbery in itself is one thing, but what I want to address is the response," said Chase, with MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky at her side. "I quickly realized that I did not have the tools to effectively handle and safely de-escalate a situation similar to last Wednesday.
"These are ongoing incidents and we need to appropriately address them now," she said. "We have a crisis on our hands and it is everyone’s responsibility to take action."
Gawronsky said the MGEU is calling for an emergency summit that would pull in representatives from all levels of government, community organizations, police, addictions services, and other stakeholders to come up with solutions to be implemented in the short term. It's a sentiment she hears echoed by the rank and file of the union, she said.
"I’m begging this government to pull this summit together," she said. "Get all of us together in the same room. We need to put away our political parties, we need put away our stripes and our colours, and we need to sit down and we need to work this out and stop this crisis once and for all."
Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton told reporters Wednesday he’s looking forward to participating in an all-party meeting Thursday with the MGEU to discuss the theft issue.
— with files from Larry Kusch
Updated on Wednesday, November 27, 2019 at 12:21 PM CST: Adds Twitter user
12:29 PM: Adds Facebook video
12:33 PM: Adds related stories
12:45 PM: Adds security video
1:35 PM: clarifies number of incidents per day
7:00 PM: Writethrough, updated photos.