TAKING A STAND—Bartender Latika Pamplin and Pittsburgh police officer Brenda Tate pose with signs on the Black Beauty Lounge’s windows, warning shoplifters never to come inside. (Photos by J.L. Martello)
Within hours of the Hicks family opening their SHOP ‘n SAVE in the Hill District in the 1980s, boosters were selling cartloads of merchandise two blocks away. Add to that the employees “giving away” huge quantities of inventory and the store failed in short order; killing any chance of revitalizing the Hill for 30 years.
The term “booster,” said Pittsburgh Police Spokesperson Diane Richard, is a professional shoplifter, as opposed to, say, a teenager taking a pack of gum.
SIGN OF THE TIMES—Unlike 30 years ago, the Hill District is not going to let boosters ruin the economic and employment opportunities the SHOP ‘n SAVE will bring to the community.
“But I would use the term ‘professional’ very loosely,” said Richard. “They are people who are well-versed in retail theft, in some cases even specializing in stealing anything from clothing and appliances to electronics and jewelry. Some have even been known to ‘take orders’ for specific items.”
Now that The Hill House Association and its partners have brought a new SHOP ‘n SAVE to the community after decades of work, the community is responding not only with its patronage but its sense of ownership. And it is telling any boosters thinking of targeting the store, “not this time.”
James “Pee Wee” White, owner of Big Tom’s Barber Shop, illustrated this when a young man he didn’t even know came into the shop and asked if anyone wanted to buy some steaks–still in the SHOP ‘n SAVE wrapper.
“I told him to get out, he came back a little later and offered them for a reduced price,” said White. “So, I said I’d look at them, took them from him, and told him to go out and call the cops if he wanted to. Then we took them back to the store and told the staff at the front counter what happened.”
White said he is not going to let shoplifters kill the store and everything it promises for future economic development and job growth.
“I’m not having it,” he said. “I’ve been cutting hair here for 27 years, and I love this community. There’s good people here, and we’re all sticking together on this.”
That can be confirmed by looking across Centre Avenue to the Black Beauty Lounge, which has two signs in its windows warning boosters to stay out.
“The SHOP ‘n SAVE is beautiful, and it means so much. That’s why we’re all pulling together, we want it to stay in our community,” said bartender Latika Pamplin. “If anyone comes in, I tell them we don’t want any stolen goods in here, and if you come back again you’ll be barred.”
Pittsburgh police Officer Brenda Tate, who walks a beat along Centre Avenue, is pleased to see the businesses taking ownership of the issue and supporting the grocery. She said she’d heard rumors of theft, but hadn’t seen anything. But, she said, anyone can walk by with a bag.
“I didn’t know about Pee Wee doing what he did until I asked after (the Courier) asked me. That’s fantastic because we all need to support the SHOP ‘n SAVE,” she said. “And the businesses here are. The Center of Attraction salon–she’s putting up signs too. And Jack, over at Jack’s Joint isn’t putting up with it either.”
NOT HAVING IT—Big Tom’s owner James “Pee Wee” White tells the Courier how he confiscated steaks stolen from SHOP ‘n SAVE when a booster tried to sell them in his barbershop. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
Jack Wright, whose corner store offers hot breakfast and lunch sandwiches and snacks, doesn’t have any room left on his windows for more signs, but his message is the same as White’s and Pamplin’s.
“Don’t bring that in here,” he said. “I won’t have it in my place or outside my place.”