The Magnificent Mile, already hit hard by pandemic, faces new threat in mass thefts

Chicago's iconic Michigan Avenue is facing an uphill battle. Many stores on the Magnificent Mile shuttered their doors amid the pandemic, but now retailers continue to face the threat of mass thefts.

Retailers on Michigan Avenue are seeing neighboring vacancies and in some cases, repeat robberies.

Just last week, two luxury stores on Michigan Avenue were robbed.

On Thursday, Mar. 31, Burberry was targeted once again when four unknown suspects entered the store during business hours and made off with an unknown amount of luxury handbags. The store has been targeted several times in recent months.

The next day, around 4:40 p.m., five unknown offenders entered Gucci and stole product from within, before fleeing in a vehicle.

MORE: Chicago retail theft: 5 suspects stole merchandise from Gucci store on Mag Mile

The rash in retail crime comes as vacancies are rising. However, Gregory Kirsch, executive managing director and Midwest retail leader with Cushman & Wakefield said vacancies aren’t unique to Michigan Avenue, and are not necessarily tied to crime.

The Mag Mile currently has a retail vacancy rate of 24.7%, but that's in line with other high-traffic shopping corridors, including 5th Avenue in New York City and Union Square in San Francisco.

"It’s so sad," said shopper Gurjit Kaur. "Chicago is one of the busiest cities where people want to come for shopping."

Amid the pandemic, retailers like Gap, Macy's, Disney and more have shuttered their doors.

"I am definitely hoping to see more and more business coming back," said Tao Lai, who lives downtown.

Kirsch said vacancies are correlated to consumer shopping habits, as they now tend to purchase fast fashion online and stick with purchasing luxury products in person. Plus, despite retail thefts at high-end stores, he said luxury shopping sales are actually up.

It's a trend that consumers are noticing too.


"Definitely in the Water Tower Place in general they change the stores all the time, it's a really big turnover. Like the other day, I wanted to go to Aldo, and I was like, 'when did Aldo leave?' I didn't even know that wasn't there anymore," said Rose Filipas, a shopper on the Mag Mile.

Other retail experts, like Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association feel that in order to lower the vacancy rate and attract retailers, crime needs to be addressed.

"It creates a greater difficulty of overcoming that when you have an environment that people perceive as unsafe. It does not encourage them to come back to the office, it does not encourage them to work, it does not encourage them to come back to shop, and it certainly doesn’t encourage tourists to come back to Chicago. That’s why it’s important, I think, to address this crime wave effectively," said Karr.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul have introduced legislation called the "Organized Retail Crime Act," which would combat this problem from several angles.

Karr said he expects the bill to be voted on in the state House of Representatives this week, before proceeding to the Senate.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul have introduced legislation called the "Organized Retail Crime Act." If passed, it would combat this problem from several angles, including by disrupting organized retail theft rings and by permitting harsher penalties for offenders.