In an effort to battle a relentless spate of brazen daytime shoplifters ravaging the glossy boulevard, Madison Avenue stores on the Upper East Side are dimming lights, barring doors, and opening by appointment only. Even during normal business hours, the Carolina Herrera shop on 67th Street seems to be shuttered, with lights dimmed and doors dead-bolted.
One bride-to-be told the New York Post, “It looks closed” and said it’s a “bad look” for the world-famous luxury retail area. The woman planned to spend six figures on three Herrera gowns for the walk down the aisle and festivities after the wedding. Carolina Herrera sales associate Michelle Singh stated, “The normal thing now today is to lock our doors on Madison Avenue.” Carolina Herrera store manager identified only as Michael, added that “We don’t feel safe. You feel violated when they come in.”
Singh was witness to a recent heist when a “normal-looking man in his 40s” stole “four or five” bags from the shop. Singh attempted to prevent the suspect from leaving with the bags but was persuaded by coworkers to let him unlock the door and go for fear that he might get violent.
Most notably, handbags have been a favored target of organized groups of shoplifters shamelessly plundering luxury goods off the shelves of avenue retailers. One of Herrera’s priciest bags is a silky black leather design studded with glittering hand-blown Murano glass from Italy with a price tag of $4,500.
Other local retailers, Chanel and Prada also lock their doors during business hours and have well-dressed security guards standing by, opening the doors for potential consumers after peering through the door windows. The most audacious daytime crime in the commercial district occurred in February when a group of seven criminals walked out of The Real Real on Madison and 71st Street with about $500,000 in handbags and jewels. According to Matthew Bauer, head of the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District, “it’s very much an organized crime model.”
Bauer said the shoplifters are “just the tip of the iceberg” and “following orders” for a far broader crime organization. They typically go unpunished under soft-on-crime Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Bauer’s group joined forces with other Midtown BIDs last month to call on Gov. Hochul to take action against the massive crime spree that is ruining New York City’s reputation for luxury shopping.
The National Retail Federation said in its 2021 security survey that “these gangs are more aggressive and violent than in years past,” noting that 69% of stores had seen an increase in organized retail crime over the previous year. Grand larceny has increased by 47% in the 19th Precinct, which encompasses much of the Upper East Side, with 470 instances so far in 2022, up from 320 incidents at the same time last year. Petty theft has also increased dramatically, rising by nearly 60% from 709 instances in 2021 to 1,129 in 2022.
According to NYPD data, theft has increased dramatically across the city, with grand larceny up 54% and petty larceny up 42%. Chief of Crime Control Strategies Michael LiPetri said allegations of shoplifting in the city have increased by 81% in the last year. As a result, a trip along Madison Avenue has lost a lot of its charm and spontaneity for consumers. Many stores now encourage, if not compel, customers to schedule appointments before entering.