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By Erin O'Briant
A scary bar robbery and a string of burglaries plagued the merchants of Noe Valley in late October and early November, prompting leaders of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association (NVMPA) to consider new ways to curb neighborhood crime.
"We are looking into doing an analysis of hiring a private security firm," notes NVMPA co-president Teresa Gay. The firm, if hired, would be managed by the association. She encourages local business owners to implement security systems if they don't already have them, and to be sure to report any crime, actual or attempted.
The recent crime wave began just before 1 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 27, when two men held up The Peaks bar, at 1316 Castro Street near 24th Street. According to police, one male suspect entered the bar and pointed a gun at the bartender, then robbed individual patrons. The man's accomplice remained at the door. No one was hurt. But for merchants and police, the evening was just starting.
Sometime between 1 and 2 a.m., the alarm at Bliss Bar, located at 4026 24th Street, was activated when burglars began tampering with a window. "They gained access by prying open the front window with a crowbar," explains Katina Letheule, who owns Bliss Bar with her husband, Pierre. "We have an alarm with a motion sensor, so when that went off, they fled. On our video surveillance, we were able to see a man with a hoodie who tried opening the cash register, which was empty." Nothing was stolen.
Soon after that, police responded to another alarm at Joe's 24th Street Café, at 3853 24th Street near Vicksburg Street. The front door was forced open, but it was unclear to officers what, if anything, had been taken. A witness saw two men leave the premises and get into a maroon vehicle similar to a 1990s Mercury Cougar; the suspects sped off.
The alarm at Noe Bagel, located at 3933 24th Street near Sanchez Street, went off at about 3 a.m. Two doors were damaged and the office was in disarray, but fortunately there was no money in the safe and nothing was taken.
During the next several days, the break-ins and attempted break-ins continued, this time at PastaGina and Bacco, both located on Diamond Street near 24th Street, and at Subs and Cottage Industries on 24th Street, according to Gay. Burglars also broke into Café Ponte, next to PastaGina. "They broke in through one of my windows to gain access to PastaGina--we share a door between our spaces," explains café owner Bruce Ponte. "They pried open the door and then pried a safe that was bolted to the floor [in PastaGina] loose and took it." Ponte has installed new locks that make it impossible to lift the windows out of the frames.
By mid-November, the business burglaries had died down, possibly because of increased police presence in the neighborhood. According to Captain John Goldberg of the San Francisco Police Department's Mission Station, "There was an increase in officers dedicated to the area, both [in] uniform and plain clothes." So far, no arrests have been made.
According to Gay, members of the Noe Valley Merchants Association will discuss how to keep businesses safe from crime--and whether or not to hire a security firm--at their next meeting, set for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 31. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.