In July’s Outer Drive column, “The Accidental Thief,” Jeff Ruby chronicled Lisa Portes’s experience with unintentional shoplifting. After Whole Foods banned her for life for walking out without paying for a bottle of vitamins, Portes successfully lobbied to be reinstated and then vowed never to shop there again. Read the full story at chicagomag.com/wholefoods.
In the fierce debate on Portes’s story that broke out—both online and in our e-mail box—most correspondents argued that Portes was in the wrong. Below, a roundup of thoughts from just about every side of the dispute.
I just don’t believe someone can “accidentally” walk out of a store with an item they didn’t pay for. It sounds like this woman thought she was entitled to take an item “just this once” because she was a frequent shopper. Whole Foods did the right thing. They have a policy, and they apply it evenly and fairly to everyone.
Having been a retail manager, I have a hard time with the rigidity of this policy. Store leadership should be given the opportunity to make decisions in situations like this . . . not just reading a manual and pointing to it when confronted with making a decision.
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
It seems to me that the tale of “The Accidental Thief” is less of a conundrum and more of a commentary on how society operates in a faceless world. Both sides of the story are valid: Portes made an honest mistake, and Whole Foods is protecting its interests. I don’t think being a “frazzled mom” counts as an excuse—lack of knowledge or control of the act does not mitigate its illegality.
We shop every day at large stores [like Whole Foods] that we choose for their convenient location, volume discounts, and fast service. We love them so much that we have put the little local stores out of business—the kind of place where Portes might have been instantly forgiven because she is a regular. So it seems a little silly to me to be upset when the social interactions we have forsaken have become the very thing that could have cleared up an “honest mistake.”
She stole from Whole Foods. Upon discovering this, Whole Foods declines to call the police and deals with the issue internally by banning her from the store. When she complains about that, they lift the ban. Then they decline to collect the damages they are allowed to collect. And she still feels like she’s been wronged? At every step, Whole Foods opted to show restraint. She got off tremendously lucky yet has the gall to act victimized. Shame on HER.