In other circumstances, he might have chalked it up to bitter experience.
But when Brian MacKenzie got the call that someone had broken into his downtown Minneapolis bar earlier this month and stolen hundreds of dollars worth of alcohol, he couldn’t help wonder whether the recent emptying of downtown has contributed to a feeling among criminals that businesses like his are easy pickings.
“We’re gonna have to try to step up our security, and unfortunately it’s a big expense and right now with business not what it has been, it’s tough to find a way to afford that extra cost,” said the longtime owner of MacKenzie Pub, a watering hole on Hennepin Avenue in the Theater District.
While Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order for Minnesotans to stay at home has shuttered nonessential businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus, merchants are worried not only about their future, but also about their safety.
In Minneapolis, there were 320 property crimes during the seven-day period ending March 24, up from an average of 285 during the same time period the past two years — mostly due to an increase in auto thefts. Overall, burglaries were down in that span, but burglaries of businesses are making up a greater share of those crimes, the data show. Robberies have also increased.
Two days after the MacKenzie break-in, O’Donovan’s Irish Pub just two blocks away was burglarized. And the owners of Ray J’s American Grill, a popular chicken wing and burger joint in northeast Minneapolis, wrote in a Facebook post earlier this month that someone had broken in and stolen some cash. It was yet another blow for a family-owned business already dealing with the “most stressful time in our lives,” the post said.
Concerned about potential “looting” as the shutdown continues, some local shopkeepers have started boarding up their windows, said Joe Tamburino, an attorney who used to be chairman of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association. “It’s unsightly — it looks like a war zone,” he said, adding that the recent break-in only highlights the need for more police.
Minneapolis bars and restaurants aren’t the only merchants falling victim. On Sunday morning, burglars broke into Total Defense Gun Shop & Range in Ramsey and stole handguns.
While researchers have studied whether criminal activity goes up after natural disasters like hurricanes, it’s still too soon to tell what the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be, according to Hamline University criminology Prof. Jillian Peterson.
“I don’t think we’ve seen anything quite like this, but we do know when we are in times of economic crisis, that we see certain types of crime go up, so things like burglaries, robberies and domestic violence,” said Peterson, who added that it is in part because families are under more financial stress as people lose jobs and low-wage workers are forced to stay home because of the coronavirus.
But the reverse is also possible, she said, with crime dropping as more people stay at home. Criminologists also say that the fear of crime and disorder in the aftermath of natural disasters can outstrip reality.
Luther Krueger, a criminal prevention specialist for the Minneapolis Police Department, posted on the Nextdoor online community that the city had seen an “uptick in business burglaries, possibly due to many businesses with reduced staff or being closed and unoccupied following the local emergency declaration.”
Department spokesman John Elder said police have stepped up patrols near grocery stores and other businesses that sell supplies, but they are also concerned about a potential increase in delivery driver robberies and package thefts as online orders surge with households stocking up.
“It’s not uncommon for our officers to follow package delivery drivers for a few blocks.” he said.
Without customers walking through the door anytime soon, Mackenzie said the last thing he says he needed was having to pay for security upgrades.
He also worries that the repairs will be less than his insurance deductible: the costs of replacing the front door glass and fixing a downstairs cooler, which was damaged when beer from a tap that the burglars opened seeped through the floor.
“We’ve already been told by the insurance company that the shutdown is not considered a loss of business because it’s a virus,” MacKenzie said.
Staff writer MaryJo Webster contributed to this report.