Can opera keep loiterers away from store parking lots?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/JeanRee
Jan 24, 2023

A 7-Eleven in Austin, TX, is blasting opera music nonstop outside the store as a deterrent against loiters and panhandlers.

Speaking to KVUE, a local television station, owner Sukhi Sandhu said he has faced issues since a homeless encampment developed next to the location. He has found needles on his property and claims that customers have been harassed. He told KVUE, “Customers tell us, ‘Hey, there is nobody in the parking lot. Nobody came to my window to ask for a dollar.’ The customers are saying it’s working.”

Several Walgreens in Reno likewise began playing classical music earlier this year outside their stores to deter homeless from congregating. Walgreens said in a statement provided to News4-Fox11, “We take steps to ensure the music is only loud enough for the immediate area around the store and cannot be heard by residents in surrounding neighborhoods.”

A 7-Eleven in Canada reportedly first came up with the tactic in 1985. It has also been used in recent years by stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. The manuever is also sometimes used to disperse teens within transit systems and in public places in the U.K. and Australia.

A Seattle Times article exploring the approach said that, just as hearing music you like can uplift your mood, “when people dislike the music, their brains respond by suppressing dopamine production — souring their mood and making them avoid the music.”

An article from Police1, a resource for law enforcement online, said the volume of the music may be the primary irritant in many cases.

Homeless advocates have criticized the practice as unethical. The noise also appears to often draw complaints from nearby residents and can annoy customers as well.

In 2021, Fred Meyer played loud classical music at night at a Portland location to deter “illegal activity,” but stopped after neighbors called it “irritating” and “inhumane,” according to Kobi5.

Frederick Carter, who lives near the Austin 7-Eleven, told Fox News, “I believe, just talk to them, and ask them not to hang around, or not to live around, whatever, I think that’s the best solution.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of the use of loud, classical music to deter loitering outside stores? Do you see better solutions to address this problem?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Perhaps changing it up and trying different (annoying) types of music may help, especially as opera music can grow on you!"
"What if we agreed to try proactive solutions that subtly improve the lives of these suffering people, rather than kicking them when they’re down?"
"As a conductor, I’m a bit dismayed that opera and classical music are the music chosen as deterrents but I would try EVERYTHING to keep my store from being a homeless camp."

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14 Comments on "Can opera keep loiterers away from store parking lots?"


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Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

It’s definitely worth a try as it has worked in some instances but the concern, as stated, is that it may turn off customers at the same time. Perhaps changing it up and trying different (annoying) types of music may help, especially as opera music can grow on you!

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

As a conductor, I’m a bit dismayed that opera and classical music are the music chosen as deterrents but I would try EVERYTHING to keep my store from being a homeless camp. Water dripping down the walls, noise, strobe lights, whatever is fair game. I decided not to move to downtown Los Angeles a few years ago because it appears the homeless have more rights than business owners. Something has to change but until then, if talking to them doesn’t work then don’t, as they say, wait until the fat lady sings and you have to close your doors.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

You would have thought Black Sabbath, Bob, wouldn’t you? 🙂

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I know!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

This sounds like the plot of a horror movie. Quick, call M. Night Shyamalan! Seriously though, if it works without hurting anyone, as it obviously does, it appears to be a good solution to the problem.

David Spear
BrainTrust

I love classical music so it wouldn’t work on me, but for those who hate it, play it. Retailers have an obligation to keep their stores safe and if this option seems to work better than other options, then use it. For those who say this is unethical, would they say the same if Beyoncé or the Backstreet Boys were playing?

Dion Kenney
BrainTrust
14 days 22 hours ago

In general, solving problems by being irritating is misanthropic at best, and sociopathic if the foundation for your normal course of action. But perhaps even more offensive is the notion of high art being used as punishment. What long-term negative associations will this create in the minds of the general public?

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

This has been tried for years. I think it’s a great idea, certainly worth trying given the low cost associated with doing so. I’d be surprised to learn that some customers will decide to change their buying habits to avoid being exposed to a genre of music.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I saw this news report when it first came out here and I have to say, it was something I would not have thought of — but if it works, go for it.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust
Hilarious development. This reminds me of the buildings that put up spiky nails to prevent birds from perching, instead of putting a bird feeder a safe distance away. The unhoused are a complex issue that we grapple with a lot in San Diego. However blasting opera like a sci-fi villain that just hit their stride is not the way to go. I’m surprised 7-Eleven went with opera instead of old Eminem dis tracks, but I wouldn’t call this practice “unethical.” If someone wants to panhandle outside of 7-Eleven, I doubt that opera will be the thing to deter them. What about a free coffee a week for unhoused folk that move along? Or giving them first access to expired baked goods? What if we agreed to try proactive solutions that subtly improve the lives of these suffering people, rather than kicking them when they’re down? What’s next for 7-Eleven? Distilling unpleasant smells into the air where the unhoused congregate? Ensuring the pavement is unpleasant to walk on in those areas? It’s time for brands and… Read more »
Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

When I ran a store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, I used to frequently find “a gift” on our back stoop. One day I happened to open the door and almost caught the guy in the act. I asked him why he chose my store and he said because we had the cleanest stoop in the city.

So we made a deal: I’d buy him breakfast every day if he would stop and he agreed. His name was Jim and ultimately I hired him to do random tasks. When I left I made sure that other store personnel continued to take care of Jim, and they were happy to do it.

You schooled us, Jasmine, by pointing out that there are more humane ways to deal with the homeless. A little acknowledgement of our universal humanity can go a long way.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust
Thanks for this, George. I understand how people can begin to see those experiencing homelessness as the enemy. Their presence can interfere with how we want to present ourselves/our stores and it can be scary. Living in San Diego, I’ve had some terrifying interactions with unhoused people and I’ve had to modify my approach quite a bit. But coming from privilege is a responsibility. Although my privilege is earned with daily hard work, I’m still hyper aware that others don’t have the gift of gab, health insurance, or ability to withstand difficulties that enable me to lead the life I do today. Without the support of my family, the health issues I had as a youth could have led me down a very different path. With that comes responsibility, not the right to cast judgement. 7-Eleven blasting opera is hilarious, but it’s indicative of a dangerous way of us/them thinking that doesn’t reflect the religious/moral doctrines that most of us profess. Most of which are still Judeo-Christian. Remember those WWJD bracelets from back in the… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

I love original thinking. Win for the store and win for the customer.

PS: I love classical music.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

“We take steps to ensure the music is only loud enough for the immediate area around the store and cannot be heard by residents in surrounding neighborhoods.”

This claim lies at the heart of the strategy, but I find it dubious (indeed it seems to be refuted later down in the article). These kind of gimmicky ideas are good at filling out the “third story” space on slow news days, but I don’t think anyone really believes they’re any kind of solution.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Perhaps changing it up and trying different (annoying) types of music may help, especially as opera music can grow on you!"
"What if we agreed to try proactive solutions that subtly improve the lives of these suffering people, rather than kicking them when they’re down?"
"As a conductor, I’m a bit dismayed that opera and classical music are the music chosen as deterrents but I would try EVERYTHING to keep my store from being a homeless camp."

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