A couple of 10- or- 11-year-old Lodge Grass kids running out of the Little Horn IGA on Wednesday with armfuls of Slim Jims and other snacks wasn’t a big loss for the business.
But regular theft has become such a burden for the store that manager Abe Garcia decided to protest by closing the town’s only grocery.
“We closed for the day, Thursday, to send out a statement. It’s not going to be tolerated, the amount of theft that goes on here,” Garcia said. “I’m overwhelmed and my staff is overwhelmed.”
After posting a note on the door explaining the closure, Garcia said he talked to about 50 customers. Half were understanding and half were upset.
“The community was pretty upset about it … but we had to do it to make a point,” he said.
Lodge Grass is a town of about 600 in Big Horn County on the Crow Reservation near the Wyoming border. The closest grocery stores are 20 miles away in Crow Agency, 40 miles to the Bighorn IGA in Hardin or 40 miles south to Sheridan, Wyo.
Four years ago, Doug McCormick bought the grocery that has been in town for 60 years. The store employs about 20 people, but an average shift includes two at the front checkout counters and one in the back and they just can’t leave to chase shoplifters, Garcia said.
The problem has only grown worse since law enforcement officers have become scarce on the reservation, Garcia said.
“If we have an incident here they either don’t show up or they come hours later,” he said. “Even in the middle of the night, there can be only one officer on the whole reservation.”
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Two Bureau of Indian Affairs officers came to the store Friday to help out with security.
Lodge Grass Mayor Henry Speelman has called a community meeting for Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the Lodge Grass City Hall to discuss the issue of crime on the reservation.
“This is about the grocery store and the fact that we call law enforcement frequently and really nothing happens,” the mayor said. “They just take reports. Nobody gets prosecuted for it. This has been going on for years and it’s time to get it straight.”
Law enforcement officials, tribal judges, legislators and community leaders have been invited to attend.
Carolyn Pease-Lopez, state representative for House District 42, which includes Lodge Grass, said the town has had a difficult couple of years.
A year ago, floodwaters isolated the reservation, including Lodge Grass, leaving the low-lying parts of town, including the IGA, under four feet of water. Last fall, there was a triple murder in town.
Losing the only grocery serving Lodge Grass and neighboring towns would be a tremendous loss, she said.
“There are a lot of people who can’t run long distances anymore because of the price of fuel,” Pease-Lopez said. “Plunking down a vast sum of money and driving up to Billings every week or Sheridan is not that practical for a lot of families.”