State scrutiny of Village Pantry safety issues set to end

Village Pantry should know in June whether it has satisfied state requirements imposed three years ago after regulators concluded the convenience-store chain failed to establish and maintain “reasonably safe” working conditions.

The North Carolina-based chain has been submitting quarterly reports to the Indiana Department of Labor since 2011 detailing corrective actions it has either undertaken or is considering to improve safety and security.

Those range from the more mundane—training every manager on the contents of a safety manual—to the more significant—installing panic alarms in stores in crime-plagued neighborhoods.

Village Pantry agreed to submit the reports as part of a settlement with the state following the November 2009 shooting death of a female clerk during a robbery at the 1402 S. Meridian St. store. Another clerk was seriously wounded in a shooting at its 1415 W. 86th St. store in October 2011, just four months after the two sides reached the agreement.  

The latter shooting received so much attention that State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, pushed for legislation mandating safety measures, such as security cameras and height markers.

“The problem is clear: You have low-wage workers in a high-risk environment, and the public is at risk,” said DeLaney, whose measure failed to get a hearing.

Village Pantry’s three-year oversight period is set to end June 1. The chain then will submit a final report to the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

IOSHA will review the report and inform Village Pantry that it has completed the requirements outlined in the settlement, or ask that it undertake additional safety measures, said Robert Dittmer, a spokesman for the Department of Labor, which administers the IOSHA program.

“It is important to note that IOSHA took an investigation into a single, very tragic, fatality at a single store and negotiated the results into a corporate-wide settlement that requires significant security and safety changes at all 134 Village Pantry stores in Indiana,” Dittmer said in an email. “Village Pantry made a three-year commitment to upgrade that security and safety. The result is safer workplaces for Hoosiers.”

Village Pantry over the past three years has compiled a relatively clean record with the state except for a handful of safety violations discovered June 13 at its 6014 E. Washington St. store. IOSHA fined the chain $7,500 but later reduced the amount to $4,875.

The state issued four violations deemed serious enough to warrant fines. Those were for slippery floors caused by a broken grease trap, no equipment to protect eyes and skin from cleaning products, no access to eyewash and the incorrect installation of electrical equipment, according to state reports.

That East Washington Street store is one of four stores that Village Pantry selected as demonstration sites for new equipment and processes it planned to roll out statewide.

Calls to a company spokeswoman seeking comment were not returned.

In its latest quarterly report, submitted in March, Village Pantry outlines three pages of corrective measures it has completed or is considering.

For instance, Village Pantry said it has reconsidered its stance on installing panic buttons that employees can activate to alert police of trouble. The buttons are among “late-night recommendations” from IOSHA that the company has agreed to evaluate. So far, Village Pantry has installed the buttons in seven stores.

It also has remodeled 10 stores by rotating checkout counters to allow for better sight lines to store entrances and exits.

Among the recommendations it’s evaluating: scheduling additional employees during late-night hours and installing pass-through devices or bullet-resistant barriers in stores more susceptible to robberies.

“Village Pantry continues to experience a significant decline in robberies, which we believe is directly related to our ongoing commitment to employee and customer safety,” the company wrote in one report.

The chain said it has identified 17 stores in Indiana it considers most at-risk of violent crime.

Some of the measures the chain is undertaking are supported by DeLaney, whose district encompasses the store on West 86th Street where the 2011 shooting occurred.

DeLaney doubts legislation along the lines of what he introduced two years ago will return soon. But he said he’ll be interested to find out whether Village Pantry has met the state’s requirements.

“The credible people, on their own, do what I would like them to do,” he said. “I just have not been able to get the industry as a whole to support the regulations. It’s part of the general fear of regulation.”

The state’s scrutiny of Village Pantry stemmed from an IOSHA investigation opened after the shooting death of the female clerk at the South Meridian Street store in 2009.

The investigation found employees at that store had been involved in more than 32 robberies involving force since 2000. As part of the settlement, which cut Village Pantry’s fine from the $67,500 to $7,000, the chain agreed to change processes and procedures in its stores.

Village Pantry, founded in the 1960s by Marsh Supermarkets, now is part of Wilmington, N.C.-based VPS Convenience Store Group.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that VPS is owned by GPM Investments LLC.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.