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Bartell Drugs says it will not open any more stores in downtown Seattle after violent assaults on employees

SEATTLE -- The CEO of Bartell Drugs Kathi Lentzsch has been in her role for about year.

She moved from San Francisco to take the job in Seattle, and frankly she says she is surprised over the number of incidents and the violence she is seeing in Seattle.

Surveillance videos inside Bartell Drugs have captured countless shoplifting cases. In one incident, video shows a man in one aisle quickly running off with up to $700 worth of skincare products.

Lentzsch says many times the criminals are bold and many of them are repeat offenders.

“They will stand in front of our staff with a basket full of products and tell them we know you can’t come after us and walk out the door,” Lentzsch said.

It’s costing the company a lot, but the CEO didn’t sit down with Q13 News to talk about shoplifting.

“We've had too many cases of employees ending up in the hospital or with very serious issues,” Lentzsch said.

Multiple employees have been rushed to the hospital because of violent assaults.

Sometimes it’s shoplifting that escalates to assaults or just unprovoked attacks. The situation is concerning enough that the company is rethinking their future in the downtown core of Seattle.

In one case, cameras captured a pharmacist stumbling back with a broken nose. The company says he asked a shoplifter if he could help them pay for the items he had witnessed the suspect stealing.

“We have an individual who had two surgeries in December from being assaulted,” Lentzsch said.

Most of the times there is nothing employees can do but just pick up the pieces, like the time a man lashed out and trashed the store. He appeared to be going through a psychotic episode.

“My heart goes out to my store team, they are tough and yet compassionate and try to do the best they can,” Lentzsch said.

The company says they have off duty police officers at two of their downtown Seattle branches.

In one of those branches a woman tried to come after an employee despite a police officer  standing in front of the worker. It took multiple officers to subdue the woman.

“Where we would like help is the violent offenders, it was startling to me how different the city had become,” Lentzsch said.

The company would like to hire more off-duty officers, but it's already costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to have officers in just two of the branches.

“Frankly we are losing money in some of those stores because of the cost of putting after hour policemen,” Lentzsch said.

She worries about the livelihood of the existing chains in Seattle, and for the time being the company has decided not to open any more stores in the downtown core.

Lentzsch says for things to get better, city leaders and community members have to work together.

She wants to be at the table to talk solutions and she hopes city leaders are actively working on new ways to tackle the problem right now.

She doesn’t blame any one entity for the complicated situation. She says mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness all play a role in the uptick in violence.

The CEO also says police officers are doing the best they can and that the problem is bigger than them. The company says they do not call 911 over shoplifting cases, only when there is a disruption or a dangerous situation. The company also says employees are told not to physically engage with shoplifters for their safety.

Lentzsch says this is not a Bartell Drug problem because her competitors are facing the same issue and so are many other businesses across Seattle.

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