On the Country Club Plaza, recent outbreaks of gun violence and theft have retailers concerned
After two shootings at stores in the Plaza, some retailers have changed their business hours out of concerns for employee safety. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says the city is talking with the Plaza's owners about increasing law enforcement presence in the area.
No business owner should have to deal with ongoing incidents that threaten the safety of their employees and customers, Tyler Enders shared, but that’s the reality for some entrepreneurs on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza.
Employees at Made in KC’s marketplace location on the Plaza were closing up for the night Sept. 2 — the Saturday of a busy Labor Day weekend — when they heard multiple rounds of gunfire outside, said Enders, co-founder of Made in KC. They stayed inside until it was deemed safe to leave for the night, he added.
A 15 year old was later arrested for shooting a 14 year old, according to media reports, in an incident that came just two weeks after an employee of JD Sports on the Plaza was shot by a suspect who was shoplifting. Both the 14 year old and the employee survived the shootings.
“It is frustrating and it’s a challenge,” explained Enders, who also lives on the Plaza and is a member of the new Plaza District Council. “Two of these incidents have occurred within 100 yards of our shop. It’s across the street from us. And it can be a traumatic experience for people. It depends on different employees and how they react to the situation.”
“Employee safety is first and foremost and customer safety is incredibly important to us,” he continued. “It’s something that you don’t want to have to think about.”
In June, Shake Shack — which sits across the street from Made in KC — began closing its dining room at 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, only filling takeout and delivery orders.
“It’s a sad situation,” Enders said. “Our concern and fear is that the number of incidents involving guns has increased and it doesn’t feel as though it was a unique event. Now it does feel as though that it’s almost becoming more of a pattern that happens more than once and multiple times recently. As a company, we’re doing what we can to try to ensure employees are working in a safe environment and our customers have a safe environment.”
In a statement to Startland News, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said the city continues to have ongoing conversations with Country Club Plaza ownership to enhance safety, including discussing ways it can increase law enforcement presence in and around the Plaza.
“A long-term public safety solution must consist of a private and public partnership, so we look forward to working collaboratively,” he continued. “In addition, the city will continue to invest in year-round youth programming including Mayor’s Night Hoops to keep young people busy and safe after school and on weekends.”
During a midweek visit to the Plaza, several visitors and shoppers at the popular entertainment and retail district told Startland News they were unaware of the recent shooting incident, noting they weren’t locals and were in the area to enjoy the Chiefs’ season opener.
One part-time Kansas City resident, who was showing an out-of-town guest all the Plaza has to offer, said he’d never had a bad experience in the destination shopping neighborhood.
Emily Bordner, owner of local fashion accessory boutique Eb & Co., expressed a sense of calm within her Plaza-based business.
“I feel like even though there may be an increase in crime, you still feel super safe. I haven’t had any issues,” she said. “I know the security on the Plaza is responsive. So because of that, we feel really safe.”
Bordner still takes precautions on behalf of her employees, she said, stopping short of revealing those measures but noting people come first.
“We are able to text the security guards, and I always tell them if they feel uncomfortable to text one to walk with, or walk together when leaving,” Bordner said. “If they feel something’s weird going on in the store they can lock themselves in the bathroom and call someone. The employees are priority here, not the headbands.”
Although he wasn’t immediately aware of the latest shooting, Yogurtini owner Isaac Collins shared that the uptick in crime has been an ongoing conversation for the eight years he’s owned his location on the South Plaza, which is right next to Chipotle and The Mixx.
“It is a problem,” he explained. “I would love to say that it’s not, but it is. We’ve had things from teens who were causing issues and from homeless to other adults who were doing things. There’s been theft. I know Chipotle has been hit. We get cups of yogurt stolen every single day.”
Because the string of eateries are just off the Plaza main streets, and not much around them is open late, the owners don’t see huge groups of teens, Collins noted. But with less security than the Plaza, the South Plaza area still gets a lot of spillover, which can be difficult to manage, he added.
At all three of his KC Yogurtini locations, Collins mainly employs teens, he noted, and the Plaza employees frequently deal with harassment.
“It’s literally daily,” he added.
It’s very telling, he said, that even when a news outlet posts a positive story about the Plaza online, the readers’ comments often take a negative tone.
“It’s a tough thing because I want to sweep it under the rug a little bit and just kind of say, ‘It’s not as big of a deal as people are saying,’” Collins continued. “But also, what I know about being a business owner is the amount of people who are saying something negative out loud versus the ones that experience something negative is very different. So the amount of people that you hear verbally or that type a review or a Facebook post who experienced something negative, it’s probably 20 times or more, meaning people who have experienced that same thing are just never going to come back to your business.”
And it’s definitely impacting traffic to Plaza stores and restaurants, he added, noting brand damage to the Plaza itself — whether based on reality or just the perception of criminal behavior.
The multifaceted challenge won’t be solved with a single action, noted Enders, who is helping the Plaza District Council in its mission to serve as a community convener, building an inclusive, activated and engaged greater district, he said.
“We are very hopeful overall that the city and Plaza District can create a safer environment,” Enders said. “We’re hopeful that with the talk about potential new owners of the Country Club Plaza, that the new owners will be coming into this with the right mindset of investing in the area.”
It’s going to take many different groups working together, Enders continued, including retailers, the ownership group, and the police department.
“We think that everyone is actively trying to do their best,” he said. “We do think existing Plaza management is doing a lot of appropriate things right now to try to create a safe environment and so it’s unfortunate that we still are experiencing these incidents.”
“We do feel that all the right parties are talking and all the right parties are trying to make the right steps forward,” Enders added. “And I do feel as though the Country Club Plaza will get safer in the future.”