The music store owned by Councilwoman Lana Negrete has been burglarized for the fourth time in recent years with a criminal literally returning to the scene of the crime to steal multiple items over the past weekend. 

Negrete said the store has been in business for 50 years and while every establishment deals with some petty theft, the Music Center has been hit with repeated high value thefts in recent years. The current spate of theft began in 2020 when the store was looted during the riots that spread from Downtown. They were then burglarized in 2021 when thieves smashed a window and stole several guitars used to support the nonprofit music charity Negrete runs out of the same location. Guitar Center replaced those instruments only for the replacements to be stolen just a few months later. 

Each theft has had its own method. While looters just stormed into the store, some thefts have been surprisingly sophisticated with criminals working to carefully bypass the store’s alarms and motion sensors. Others have been more low-tech using a brick to smash the window. 

In the recent case, the thief forced entry through the locked door and appeared to have a shopping list. 

“He’s a musician or is stealing for one,” said Negrete. “He’s been in the store before.”

She said the thief bypassed more expensive items to steal a keyboard and some accessories, including a high-end cord before driving away. However, she said the thief actually returned to the store about a half hour later. “He was trying to probably get the adapter for that cord, just scrounging for the store looking for it. He was running past $5,000 items just to get what he wanted, it was targeted and he had scoped us out.”

Negrete said the store experienced little to no theft during most of its history. She said its original location on Lincoln Blvd. included a heavy gate that prevented easy access. While the store did have one daylight robbery in its early days, the frequency of theft today is unprecedented. 

The business rents its location and doesn’t have authority from their landlord to install heavier security options like bars or metal screens. Negrete said she’s in talks with the landlord to finally receive permission to protect her business but at a cost. 

“It will be $23,000 to put in the cheapest rollup gates and bars,” she said. “Even if the landlord decides to approve any of the options, I have to pay for it.”

She said criminals are becoming more brazen in their actions. 

“We’re experiencing more of it,” she said. “They are either smarter about it or just don’t care about the alarm, it doesn’t stop them, it takes them two minutes or less to grab something and run out.” 

Moving would be more expensive with costs estimated at $350,000 to relocate. 

“It’s just really expensive to be a brick and mortar that’s not part of a chain these days,” she said. 

The store was started 50 years ago by Negrete’s father Chico Fernandez who had a dream of opening a practice space and photography studio for local musicians to jam, record, take lessons, shoot album covers and share music with the community.

The Music Center evolved over the years, with Chico’s brother Victor introducing the now integral retail shop and Chico’s daughter, Lana, founding a nonprofit based on Chico’s values of community and sharing a love of music. The shop has also moved from its original storefront on Lincoln Boulevard over to a larger space at 1901 Santa Monica Blvd.

The business has a second location in Culver City that has been relatively crime free but Negrete said theft is a huge problem for any retail business right now. 

“This was a more targeted theft,” she said of this week’s theft. “But this is happening everywhere. National music stores are getting hit more. Retailers where bigger higher price items are cased during the day and then they come back.”

The loss adds up for small retailers that don’t have the benefit of corporate write offs as insurance companies often don’t pay at all for the theft due to deductibles, radically underpay on the value of vintage equipment and can take months to provide whatever payment they will cover.

According to the US Chamber of Commerce 54% of small business owners experienced an increase in shoplifting in 2021. 

“Retail theft is becoming a national crisis, hurting businesses in every state and the communities they serve,” said Neil Bradley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief policy officer.

The average large retailer lost $700,000 per $1 billion in sales as of 2020 — an increase of more than 50% over a five-year period, according to the National Retail Federation.

On a national level, much of the crime is attributed to organized theft rings and officials say robberies often include violence or threats. According to the National Retail Federation’s 2022 Retail Security Survey, 8 out of 10 retailers reported increased incidents of violence and aggression this past year with national losses totaling nearly $100 billion dollars.