Posted on August 13, 2023

Can Classical Music Deter Panhandlers? Walgreens Blares Bach Outside Chicago Stores

David Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, August 9, 2023

Got a problem with people lingering at your property? Cue the orchestra.

Walgreens has decided that playing classical music outside certain Chicago stores will keep away loiterers and panhandlers. Whether a blast of Bach works is anybody’s guess, but the pharmacy chain along with other major retailers has previously employed symphonic security in the western U.S.


Deerfield-based Walgreens said it’s using classical music to discourage vagrancy, although it declined to explain why it thinks it’ll work. Retailers, especially 7-Eleven, have tried the tactic in other states like California and reported some success.

Douglas Schenkelberg, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said he found the Walgreens tactic “really disturbing” when a reporter told him about it.


He commented that a 7-Eleven downtown near his office fights loitering by playing loud operatic music, or sometimes children’s songs, and by having high-intensity lights near the door.


During a reporter’s visit to the three Walgreens in Chicago, the playlist rotated three works: Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Strauss’ Radetzky March. Vigorous pieces all meant to encourage patrons and vagrants alike to move along.

On the West Side, the Walgreens at 2340 W. Madison St. showed the limits of the deterrence. Two men who said they were homeless were gathered near planters outside the store, with music softly playing in the distance. They said it’s a decent spot for shade and shelter when it rains.

“We don’t want to approach people,” said Kevin Gregg, who said he’s been homeless for two years. “When we go into the store to shop, they make accusations and follow us around.”

Gregg said the shelters can’t help because they are full of migrants. {snip}

Retailers, whether in big cities or suburban malls, have come under pressure from increased thefts and pandemic-related disruptions, said John Melaniphy, president of Chicago-based retail consultancy Melaniphy & Associates.

He said merchants are looking for ways to hold down crime and youthful rowdiness while keeping locations attractive for shoppers.

“Playing classical music is one strategy,” he said. “It doesn’t create a lot of disturbance. It doesn’t involve the police. It’s not intimidating. Retailers want their core customers to enter and exit without concerns about their security.”