As it turns out, the customer does not — and should not — always come first.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/11/2019 (662 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

As it turns out, the customer does not — and should not — always come first.

That seems to be the realization finally reached by executives in charge of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries in the wake of a violent robbery last week that left three employees at a Winnipeg Liquor Mart outlet injured, one critically.

After months of relatively modest responses to the wave of liquor-store thefts — which has in recent months evolved from occasional random occurrences involving individuals who grab armfuls of product and leave without paying, to frequent organized attacks involving larger groups of thieves who swarm stores and terrorize customers and staff — MLL officially declared Thursday that the Crown corporation will take immediate and forceful steps to address what has become an urgent public-safety concern.

Before last week, efforts to curb the rising tide of robbery at Liquor Marts had included such minor measures as bottle locks, security guards whose authority does not include physically confronting thieves and some enhanced co-ordination with police.

The approach seemed designed to address a quickly escalating crisis with half-measures whose intent was to passively discourage theft without disrupting the outlets’ commitment to a retail-focused "customer experience."

"The way you shop at Liquor Marts is changing," stated a release issued Thursday by MLL describing the introduction of new security measures that will include locked, controlled entrances and a requirement that customers produce photo identification before being allowed to enter stores.

The Liquor Mart in the Tyndall Market mall at Keewatin Street and Burrows Avenue — the site of last Wednesday’s robbery/assaults — will be the first to adopt the new measures, with the remainder of Winnipeg’s 30-plus Crown-operated liquor stores following suit in the coming weeks and months.

The move signals a significant change in the Crown entity’s overall philosophy, and its first public recognition that current circumstances require a shift in its retail focus, away from maximizing convenience and toward a greater commitment to security and prevention.

"As a modern retailer, we have tried to balance employee and customer safety with an enjoyable shopping experience," the MLL release offered. "Unfortunately, rising crime in the city has left us no option but to take these drastic measures."

Simply put, it’s about time. It’s a safe bet that "an enjoyable shopping experience" has long since ceased to be a front-of-mind consideration for Winnipeggers who venture into local Liquor Marts; rather, it’s more likely a matter of hoping to get in and out of a liquor store without being an eyewitness to or — heaven forbid — a victim of the latest violent incident.

Political reactions to last week’s assaults and the MLL response were both predictable and disappointing. Premier Brian Pallister’s steely-eyed open declaration to liquor-store thieves that "We are going to find you" was essentially meaningless — one might fairly assume law enforcement was already doing its level best to locate and apprehend criminals before last week’s appalling incident — and opposition calls for the province to focus on the root causes of poverty and crime, while well-intended, offered nothing in the way of a timely response to an immediate need.

The long game is, of course, reducing crime and dealing with the societal factors that inspire it. The urgency lies in stopping robbery and violence in Crown-operated liquor outlets, and MLL seems finally to have conceded it’s time to take decisive action that prioritizes security over convenience.

Installation of secured entrances at Winnipeg’s Liquor Marts should proceed with all due haste.