Throughout 2021 so far, the crime wave in San Francisco shows no signs in slowing down. In only the past few weeks, retail stores feeling the pinch have limited their investment and stores in the city, with Walgreens pulling out 22 stores, Safeway reducing hours, and others, like Target, looking at more stores to potentially leave the city.
However, while the large chains frequently make the news, the exodus of smaller stores out of the city or closing up shop isn’t often highlighted. High crime in the Mission District has forced out many iconic stores in the last several years, but with high crime rates continuing, and stores reporting losses due to robberies going unchecked, the rate hasn’t gone down. Some crimes, like car break-ins, have become so prevalent that there is now a car glass shortage in San Francisco. With no other options, retailers are now either hunkering down or leaving.
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Many San Francisco shop owners wanting to stay contacted the Globe after recent articles about the crime situation, and to refute city claims that the crime rate is not as bad as it is being portrayed in the media.
“I have never seen it this bad ever,” said Jezsica Wolfe [sic], who co-owns a head shop in the Haight-Ashbury District. “We’ve been robbed several times in the last few years and this year has been so bad that we now have a shotgun in case anyone tries anything. My mom and dad are full-blown hippies and they were kid of shocked to learn what we have in the shop now, but you know, they aren’t out there and seeing what’s been happening. Even with the pandemic we would be in the black if it wasn’t for people coming in, filling their pockets, and running out. It’s why a lot of stores have customer limits. We need to keep an eye on things.”
Jenny Kim, another store owner in the city, added that security systems and even security guards are now popping up.
“Places with money, like the big chain stores, they have security guards. A lot of us can’t afford that luxury, even if several of us band together for a group guard, so we rely on security systems,” noted Kim. “But that only takes you so far. Even with security cameras, people aren’t afraid to just come in, take, and run out. My neighbor even had one of them wave at the camera on the way out.”
“And I can’t blame the police. They do what they can. It’s just city policy now doesn’t go after these people as much, so they feel safe enough to do things like this. Every police officer I met who talked with me after a robbery has said that they’re sorry that more couldn’t be done.”
“Ten years ago I was robbed, and they caught and sent the guy away. Now it’s happening so much with everyone around here I’m starting to learn some of the cops names.”
Crime in San Francisco
Police officer turned security consultant Frank Ma has said that his expertise has been wanted so much that he has had to hire a secretary earlier this year to take his calls and book appointments.
“When I started I would maybe go out a few times a week and do some consultancies over the phone or even by text. The young guys, they like that, and as long as my point gets across it does the job. Now, everyone is looking for help. It’s not just security systems, but it can be as simple as getting better locks to as complicated as having store employees discreetly go around looking for any signs of theft.”
“The big thing this year has been retail security cases. It used to be, dependent on the neighborhood, what was stolen most going behind lock and key. It surprises most people, but razor blades, laundry detergent, baby formula, and some types of dental goods are the most stolen items, along with the usual things like liquor or cigarettes. Look in your store and you’ll likely see either added security around them or the items being locked behind glass.”
“In San Francisco, it’s getting more desperate. Some stores I know are now putting women’s hygiene products, diapers, and expensive toys behind glass. At one outdoors store they actually put a few expensive bird feeders and hummingbird nectar behind one. That’s where we are crime-wise in the city right now. People are stealing hummingbird nectar and baby formula so much they are being locked behind glass.”
And for many shop owners it means leaving San Francisco. Ma and others the Globe talked with said that most tend to stay within the state, for now, with common locations being in other areas around the Bay Area, Stockton, and even the Los Angeles area.
“Chesa Boudin’s policies of not going after criminals made me move to Los Angeles,” said Alec Joyce, a restaurant owner who is currently in the process of moving his Irish-themed restaurant from San Francisco to Santa Monica. “This is not exactly cheap, but I love California and wanted an ocean view place in a major city, and I lucked out here. Going to Texas or Arizona would have killed me with the heat, even though they were good options, but Los Angeles turned out to be the best option for me due to a lot of open retail spaces due to COVID closures and getting a sweet deal on rent. As a life-long San Francisco native, you have no idea how much that kills me to say that LA is a better option than San Francisco.”
Although new city policies on crime, as well as the possible recall of Boudin and demise of his non-prosecution system next year, could cut city crime rates, for at least the near future, this is the new norm in the city.
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