When I first opened my shoe store last year, I thought that small businesses had made it through the worst. Both in Minnesota and across the nation, COVID-19 cases were starting to drop, and a sense of normalcy was slowly returning.

But a new epidemic destroyed my business in just a few months: retail theft.

Despite investing thousands of dollars into my store in Little Canada — which included state-of-the-art security measures — I became victim to a spree of brazen burglaries that saddled my family with mounting debt.

In just six months, five robberies alone have cost me $30,000 worth of merchandise and caused me to close my store. Repeatedly, burglars smashed the glass doors of my storefront and ripped sneakers right off my shelves. Not only did the last incident cost my store $13,000 in stolen goods, but I am now left with devastating costs to fix all the damage to my store.

The last break-in caused me to miss the birth of my child, as I was forced to drive from the hospital emergency room to my store after receiving a call from my security company. It was heartbreaking to choose between my business and my family, but it is a reality in today's world.

Retail crime has become increasingly pervasive in my community and across the country. My store is not the only one impacted by these ruthless crime sprees, which are usually run by organized crime rings which can then peddle the stolen goods online.

Research suggests that almost $70 billion is lost to retail crime every year.

For small businesses, even one robbery can result in store closure. In the last six months, I have filed five insurance claims for robbery. After this last incident, there simply is no coming back. I've even resorted to online fundraising with the hopes of covering my losses. I'm out of options.

We need to consider how best to protect retailers from these brazen robberies.

Lawmakers in Washington are now considering legislation that aims to clamp down on retail theft by requiring online marketplaces to collect and verify basic seller information. It would make it increasingly more difficult for crime rings, such as the ones that pillaged my store, to sell stolen goods online. This is exactly the type of solution that would protect small businesses, and hopefully prevent them from seeing the same fate as my own.

Unfortunately, I'm far from the only storefront merchant closing up shop because of rampant, continuous theft. Across the country, headlines show just how pervasive and far-reaching this problem has gotten. From Minnesota to California and New York, store owners are shutting their doors because of violent thieves. It's about time that we have an honest conversation about retail theft.

Walter Dillon is the owner of KKG Kickz in Little Canada.