Walmart’s departure from Portland sheds light on rampant property crime

PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) — It’s a problem no secret to many entrepreneurs around Eastport Plaza in Southeast Portland.

FOX 12 spoke to multiple local business owners, and they all point to crime as the number one reason many leave Southeast 82nd Avenue, including Walmart. While a Walmart spokesperson told FOX 12 last week that there is no justification for a decision to close a store, other business owners said they are facing similar issues to Walmart: vandalism and shoplifting. Darrel Hanson has owned his muffler shop on Southeast 82nd Avenue for nearly four decades. He said he has seen the surrounding neighborhood decline in recent years.

“The whole 82nd area has changed in the last 20 years, especially in the last 10,” Hanson said. “It goes down and down every year. More crime, trash, homeless people, drugs and no one wants to help.”

When he heard Walmart pull away from his neighborhood a few blocks away, he wasn’t shocked.

“It hurts this community when they leave,” Hanson said. “A lot of people depend on that store.”

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He blames the area’s out-of-control crime for Walmart’s departure. He said he saw fellow small businesses close and friends move out of Southeast 82nd Avenue.

“I have a lot of friends, a lot of friends that I’ve dealt with said, ‘I’m moving out of Portland.’ Well, they left,” Hanson said. “That’s like Walmart, they left.”

The Eastport Plaza is located in the Lents neighborhood of Southeast Portland. According to Portland Police Department crime data, between January 2022 and 2023, there were 147 burglaries, 634 personal property thefts, 424 auto thefts, 53 robberies, and three stolen property crimes. This is exactly what was reported to the police. Hanson said some fellow business owners don’t even call when something happens to their property.

An example can be seen on the north side of the Eastport Plaza. The US Post Office has covered every window with plywood to hide broken windows. Those who use the post office told FOX 12 that it has been this way for weeks. A spokesperson for the United States Postal Service said Monday they are sending a contractor to take measurements to replace the windows. Hanson said the post office vandalism is just one case after months of ongoing property crime.

“We’re basically going through hell and we’re going through some really sad times,” Hanson said. “We have no support, no backup.”

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Rene Gonzalez, Portland City Commissioner, represents the ward of Lents. He sent a statement to FOX 12 following the closure of Walmart in Portland and the increase in crime around Eastport Plaza.

“While it is essential to support local, small businesses, major retail chains provide an affordable option for working-class families throughout the city, including East Portland. Rising crime and an inhospitable business climate have been too hard on businesses in Portland, and we need to work harder and smarter as a city to keep employers and retail opportunities from leaving.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler also responded to FOX 12’s request for comment, sending this statement:

“As they indicated in their comments to the media, Walmart’s decision to close the two stores was based on poor overall business performance.

Mayor Wheeler and his team regularly work with local businesses to find ways we can best support them as they navigate the uncertain economy and rising crime. The role of local, small businesses is an integral part of our economy and the mayor is committed to ensuring we preserve and help our businesses succeed.

Economic prosperity and public safety remain top priorities for the mayor, particularly re-staffing the Portland Police Department. Mayor Wheeler and Police Chief Lovell are working to hire 300 police officers and public safety specialists in three years, an effort well underway with more than 100 newly hired staff. In the FY22-23 budget, Mayor Wheeler expanded 311 hours to 24/7 coverage and increased staffing for the Bureau of Emergency Communication (BOEC) to reduce 911 wait times.

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We understand that local businesses often have to make a choice to pay out of pocket or file a claim with their insurance after a burglary. For this reason, we have been working through Prosper Portland to increase funding for business repair grants and recently held a Retail Safety Summit to work with local business leaders and loss prevention specialists to develop strategies for the retail theft crisis. We are also working with interested property owners to streamline the permitting process to add improved lighting to storefronts, which can help deter nighttime burglaries.”

Hanson said he hopes something changes in the neighborhood around his business, that hope in the local business community runs out.

“If you go down here all the time and talk to a lot of people who’ve been here a while, they’ll tell you it’s sad,” Hanson said. “They get angry, but what can you do? They’re disgusted, but then they sit down and say, ‘I’m really sad for Portland.’”

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