Retail theft is a story all too familiar for business owners in Seattle.
At Dunn Lumber’s Lake Union and Greenlake locations, surveillance videos show break in after break in.
“They’re coming over the fences, just walking in and out,” says General Manager Nick Winnem.
Winnem tells me it’s “very difficult to run a retail operation” in Seattle thanks to brazen criminals ransacking stores like Dunn Lumber.
Most of the thefts happen in the middle of the night, but Winnem says they occur during retail hours too. He tells me that power tools always go first and are easy to flip on the black market.
“This is something you see even at box stores,” he says when I ask if the problem is isolated to Dunn Lumber.
It’s hard to say exactly who the thieves are since none of them have been arrested, but Dunn Lumber owner Mike Dunn says some are homeless. A police officer told Dunn that homeless men are being exploited by criminal theft rings.
Dunn describes the thefts as “a violating experience,” that has led to devastating consequences for his livelihood.
Higher insurance premiums, more costly surveillance cameras, and an expensive security system are all prices Dunn has had to pay for doing business in the emerald city.
“The police won’t show up for an hour, or at all,” Dunn explains. It’s up to him to protect his stores.
Other mom and pop shops and corporate chain stores have already left the city citing deteriorating safety conditions.
But Dunn’s family has been here for five generations, so the patriarch of this Seattle institution says he’s staying and getting ready to fight.
“We’ll figure it out somehow,” he says. “It takes a lot to push us out.”
Dunn is leading the charge to form a new business coalition focused on pooling resources to “improve the neighborhood” and offer support to other locally owned businesses.
The coalition will focus on Fremont and Lake Union, where crime continues to plague the community and often goes unreported.
A few months ago, a homeless theft suspect burned down dozens of vessels on a dry rack behind Seattle boat company causing millions of dollars in damage.
And neighbors say homeless encampments keep popping up in new locations, attracting even more criminal activity.
Dunn hopes that the new coalition will bring attention to this part of the city and wants to encourage neighbors to be more involved.
He’s also planning to work with homeless outreach providers like We Heart Seattle that are often able to respond more immediately with outreach than the City of Seattle.
Andrea Suarez, founder of We Heart Seattle, says that “community has to be part of the response,” and leads volunteers in clean-up and outreach. “We will dig ourselves out of this humanitarian and environmental crisis,” she tells me.
If it comes down to it, the coalition plans on calling out public officials who ignore the problem.
Dunn is mild mannered, soft spoken, and should probably be retired somewhere on a sailboat.
But at this point, he’s getting ready to chart another course. The destination? A safer and revitalized Seattle.
“In a business, we say that our culture is what we permit,” Dunn tells me. “The culture of Seattle is what is being permitted, and that needs to change.”
Note: Mike Dunn of Dunn Lumber is on the Board of Directors of Discovery Institute.