Shoplifting: Student Mischief? Or a Sign of the Times?

Post Author: dollinca

Due to the influx of parked student vehicles around the campus of Madison College, as well as the added congestion during rush hour, the city completed plans for the widening of South Main and the extension of Cantrell to link with Route 33, bypassing downtown. By the spring semester of 1976, Cantrell Avenue created an access point to back campus. Furthermore, through Cantrell students more frequently shopped at Cloverleaf Shopping Center for food and groceries rather than stores in downtown. Perhaps the greatest contribution to the city from Madison students was their money. Local businesses flourished during the school year while fast food and late night chain restaraunts rushed to provide services for the students. Some store owners however correlated a sharp increase in shoplifting to the growth of the college.


Late afternoon rush hour on Main Street. The increased traffic due to the school led the city to widen Main Street and turn Cantrel Avenue into a bypass around Downtown to Route 33 East. The Breeze, September 7, 1976, page 1. Photo by Walt Morgan.

George Casun, the manager of an A&P grocery store in the Cloverleaf Shopping Center east of campus along Cantrell Avenue stated in an interview to The Breeze that what was once a rare occurance was now happening multiple times a week. Shoplifters would often attempt to steal “cigarettes, meat, hot dogs, wine, and beer.”(Byrne) Casun admitted that the majority of the thefts are minor, and that he had never called the police as a result. However he stated that if the thefts continued he would have no other choice.

Photograph of Cloverleaf Shopping Center. Scott Hamilton Suter and Cheryl Lyon, Images of America: Harrionburg, page 111.

George Pangle, the manager of the Mick and Mack food store on East Wolfe Street also experienced a sharp increase in shoplifting at the hands of students. Pangle blamed the courts for the rise in thefts due to their slack enforcement of laws regarding shoplifting. According to him, many store owners believed that prosecuting a thief was “not worth the time, trouble and expense” because the punishments did no deter the crimes.  Hot commodities stolen from Mick and Mack included shampoo and deoderant. Women were not exempt, as they were described as often stealing cosmetics. Pangle stated that one in three local stores were losing up to fifteen dollars per week and were considering hiring full time security.

Although both store owners expressed concern over the rise in shoplifting by Madison students, they both also expressed gratitude over the amount of business they handled with college students. Casun further expressed concern in the lack of punishment that the administration takes on shoplifting students. According to William Johnson, associate dean of students, the school simply does not have jurisdiction over what happens downtown unless there are “mitigating circumstances.”(Byrne)

While it is easy to point the finger at Madison students for the increase in thefts, there were more complex trends effecting the nation during this time. Scholar Bruce Schulman described the mid seventies as a time of economic decline.(Schulman, 123) Out of control inflation hindered any attempt at economic growth. Schulman described the hike in cost of living stating “interest rates reached tweny percent, the value of savings eroded, the prices of meat, milk, and heating oil rose out of sight.”(Schulman, 131) Furthermore, an article published in Harrisonburg’s Daily News Record reported that the unemployment rate wwas conituning to rise in Virginia.(DNR) Times were hard for America during the seventies, and there was no sign of them getting better in the near future. The businessmen interviewed by this article of The Breeze both complained of increased shoplifting however rejoiced in the business brought forth to them by Madison College students. John Hays, assistent manager of Drug Fair admitted that shoplifting was on the increase “all over.”(Byrne) Surely Madison students participated in shoplifting, however the history gives evidence that ordinary people, those struggling to make ends meet, would be more pressed to shoplift. Thus this article proves that the community, even those profitting during hard economic times, are unwelcoming of students.

Picture of a “No Parking” and “No Lottering” sign. Student chooses to “lotter” anyway. The Breeze, September 14, 1976, page1. Photo by Proctor Harvey.





Works Cited

Byrne, Gregory, “Shoplifting Increases in City,” The Breeze. February 6, 1976.  page 1, 5.

Schulman, Bruce. The Seventies. New York, NY: The Free Press, 2001.

“Va. Jobless Rate Up.,” The Daily News Record. February 7, 1976.