At 4437 Wisconsin Ave. NW, two blocks from Wilson High School, there sits a winterwear, camping and ski equipment store called Hudson Bay Outfitters. As soon as you enter, you see this sign:
"In cooperation with the D.C. Board of Education, and with the hopes that our sacrifice will enhance and further individual school achievement, individuals under the age of 18 years old are not permitted in this store on weekdays between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. unless accompanied by a parent or guardian."
In other words, Wilsonites Get Lost.
But why? High school kids buy more skis and wool shirts than any six adults you can name. Isn't it a boon to have a school with an enrollment of 1,600 students just down the block?
It's more like a nightmare, according to manager Mark Trent. The reason is shoplifting.
According to Hank Cohan, general manager of the six-store Hudson Bay chain, the no-kids-during-the-day sign has been posted at the Wisconsin Avenue store since two weeks after it opened in November 1979. In addition, an unarmed guard stands watch between 10 and 5.
But according to Cohan, neither step has significantly reduced shoplifting by bands of teen-agers, most of them believed by Cohan to be Wilson students.
"They'll come in and ask to see a product," Cohan said. "Then they'll tell our sales people: 'I like that and I'm gonna take it.' Then they start walking out.
"If our employe says anything, they'll say: 'Stop me.'
"We're losing employes," Cohan said. "They don't want to work in an environment like that.
"And we're having employes assaulted when they try to stop the shoplifting. Yes, I'm talking about punched. In the face.
"We're contemplating closing the store. It's that bad."
Wilson principal Dorothy G. Brown disputes Cohan's assessment.
"I'm not aware of complaints from local businesses concerning shoplifting," she said. "If there's a problem, Wilson has never been made aware of it."
However, Brown acknowledged that Wilson does not require students to stay on campus when they don't have a class.
"Students do leave the campus in the middle of the day, yes," she conceded. "About half our seniors 150 students do it every day, because they're taking the number of courses they need to be taking. That's what the rules allow."
In addition, any student can leave during the noon lunch hour, and many do, although "students are expected to be back on time, and most of them are," Brown said.
It's a miserable mess for a business to be at war with the local high school. However, Hudson Bay can hardly pretend that the shoplifting problem doesn't exist.
When a sales clerk is punched in the face by some punk kid -- and no shoplifter deserves a kinder description -- the store has to act.
But the non-offending Wilson students deserve some consideration, too. Here's how their interests, and Hudson Bay's, can be protected at the same time:
First, Hudson Bay should ask Dorothy Brown to stagger the times of day during which students are allowed off campus -- a move not to be construed as an admission that Wilson youngsters are involved. But the problem now is the sea of teenagers -- most of them honorable -- that washes over Hudson Bay each weekday at noon. If there were a trickle at 11 a.m., another at noon and a third at 1 p.m., the problem would be diffused -- and probably defused.
Second, Hudson Bay shouldn't bar all students. It should bar groups of students. A teen-ager is a meek mouse without an audience for which to show off. Deprive him of it.
Third, give the Wilson student council the power to punish or suspend student shoplifters. Hold trials. Allow Hudson Bay to testify. The deterrent value would be terrific.
So would the day when Hudson Bay feels it could take down its no-kids sign. I'd like to think that day isn't far off.