As most San Franciscans have seen by now, much of our fair city is boarded over and feeling a bit apocalyptic. Many retail shop and restaurant owners, knowing that neighborhoods are feeling abandoned and ripe for vandalism and property crime, have opted to board up their plate-glass windows for the time being.
In some cases, those boarded-over stores have been adorned with painted decorations and messages of hope and resilience. But in the case of one Outer Sunset store, Avenues Dry Goods, one of the owners lives across the street and had decided not to board it up, because it feels like a step too far. That owner is SFist co-founder and senior editor emeritus Eve Batey, and she has a story to share with the SFist readership today about her shop getting broken into early Wednesday morning, as well as Nest cam video of the thief. Thankfully, nothing much was stolen — not even a laptop sitting inside the store. The bicycle-riding thief committed a crime of opportunity, busting the front glass and grabbing a single vintage purse that was within reach.
My phone was ringing at 3:30 Wednesday morning, and (maybe for the first time since things went full-on weird in SF) I was actually deeply asleep. I picked up because it was a 415 number, but it wasn't a friend: it was Officer Herrera with the SFPD, asking if I owned or knew someone who owned Avenues Dry Goods. Yeah, I think (?) I said, it's mine. "There's been a break-in," he said.
I live across the street from my store, so I went right over. Herrera and his colleague, Officer Watson were cool, and kept apologizing for opening my husband's laptop to find a number to call about the robbery. I was just glad the laptop was still there.
In fact, it seemed like everything was still there — everything but one of our windows. Video from our security camera told the tale: A suspect who appeared to be male, in a blue parka and a bike helmet, threw something through the front window at 2:57 this morning. He grabbed a purse that was hanging by the window, then fled east on Irving Street. Ha, ha. How many times have I written similar words as a crime reporter? That was wild.
(And can I just say, though I love everything in my store, that purse kind of sucked? It was cool and old — likely 50s-era, but it was made from a rigid plastic and had a chain strap that was too long to dangle from a wrist but too short for a shoulder. It had been on the floor for a long time. It WILL NOT be missed.)
The police pointed out what the vandal threw — it looked like a piece of metal about the width of a closet dowel, and was 4-5 inches long. (That's what she said.) It was rusty. The police took it with them, but I'm realistic — I don't expect it to yield much in the way of clues.
The cops called the SFFD to have them come cover up the window and sweep the glass off the sidewalk. The firefighters arrived pretty fast, staple-gunned a tarp in front of the window, and headed back out. They were super nice, and kept apologizing, too.
I was super jacked on adrenalin, and spent the rest of the night on the couch at my store. I didn't like the idea of just leaving an open window with plastic in front of it there, which, plastic is just as vulnerable as glass? It's a meaningless distinction, I guess.
When neighbors started to hear what had happened, a couple people asked me if I was going to board up my windows. I'm still thinking about that. While we're a non-essential store (we sell items from local makers like cards, candles, and ceramics; vintage goods; and stuff we make ourselves like t-shirts and pillows) and are therefore closed under the shelter-in-place, in order to remain afloat we're doing contactless deliveries for customers in SF (during the commission of our personal, essential daily tasks, of course) and are shipping orders to people in the rest of the US. It's been tough, just like it has been for every small business. I work at my day job from early in the morning (I start between 6 and 7 a.m.) until the afternoon, then come over to make stuff and help pack deliveries, on days that we have them. It doesn't feel right to board everything up when we're still doing business, even if no one is allowed in the store but me and my husband.
And like I said, I live across the street. I didn't think less of any business that boarded up their windows before this happened, and I certainly wouldn't now, but this is my block, and has been since 2004. I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere in my life. Covering up my store feels a little bit like a concession I am not yet ready to make.
I also wonder if this could have happened any other time. It's possible — unlike some crimes I've seen reported since the shelter-in-place began in the Bay Area, this wasn't a slickly-coordinated attack. In the footage, I see that the suspect is riding a stuff-laden bike. Maybe this valueless purse just caught his eye, I don't know. But I am reluctant to attach this incident to any coronavirus-related looting narratives, because it doesn't quite jibe for me based on the admittedly brief look I got at the guy.
What I do know is that any other time, it's unlikely that the SFPD would have been patrolling so closely that they caught the smashed window within 30 minutes of the crime, and I also think that the SFFD would not necessarily have been out with a tarp as fast. I feel like our city agencies are better poised to deal with things than I've seen during past Odd Times — and after reporting on San Francisco for 16 years, I'm pretty cynical about this shit.
I got the window replaced right away. It cost $750, which would suck any day of the week. It hurts even more now, because we're already in the hole from the shutdown (not shading the shutdown, I am all for it! Stay healthy SF!), and my deductible is $1000 so I'm eating that entire cost.
The easiest part of a news report for me has always been the end, partially because by then I'm sick of the story and want to move on, and partially because I like a good kicker. But I don't usually write about my self, so I'm flailing a bit on how to wrap this up.
Maybe this works: I feel like these days (I'm referring to fears of a pandemic, isolation, etc etc), we're all a little dysfunctional. And if healthy people are feeling off-center, that suggests to me that troubled people are feeling even worse. We can't solve those folks' problems today — hell, we couldn't solve those folks' problems when things were grand (oh, December, how I miss you). What we can do is everything we can to be fair, kind, and ethical ourselves, to counterbalance any mayhem that truly troubled people at every level of society might cause. We can all perform our own personal version of patrolling for broken windows, and coming out fast when things break to help repair them. If we can all do that for each other, we'll make it through.
Eve Batey is a co-founding writer of SFist, the senior editor of Eater San Francisco, and the owner of Avenues Dry Goods, a small store in the Outer Sunset.