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By Erin O'Briant
An employee of the Last Laugh Coffee House at Dolores and Valley streets was closing up, as usual, at about 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 4, when two gunmen took him by surprise.
"There were two African-American men wearing hoodies," says Bill Schwartz, who co-owns the coffee shop with his wife, Kristen. "They had [the employee] go to the ground face down, and they asked him where the money was. He told them and they took the money. Then they had him crawl to the bathroom and count to 50."
Schwartz declined to reveal his employee's name, but said the suspects made off with about $1,200. The employee later told Schwartz that the gun the men used might have been a Colt revolver. Schwartz suspects the men may have scoped out his establishment in advance.
"The police searched for prints and couldn't get anything off the area," Schwartz continued. "I didn't have video surveillance."
Schwartz and his employee aren't the only people living and working in Noe Valley who have been frightened by armed robbers in recent months. At least nine robberies were reported during the month of September, and all but two of the cases involved a knife or a gun. Fifteen burglaries of stores and residences were also reported during the month.
On Friday, Sept. 8, an attempted street robbery took place at Duncan and Sanchez streets at about 8:30 p.m. Two suspects with pocket knives attempted to rob a victim, who successfully ran away. On Thursday, Sept. 19, a man approached a male victim, held a knife to the victim's abdomen, and demanded his money at Dolores and 23rd streets. On Wednesday, Sept. 20, in the 3800 block of 26th Street, a male suspect approached another man, pulled out a gun, and demanded the victim's bag. Suspects armed with knives also preyed on victims at 23rd and Noe streets, Clipper and Church streets, and Fair Oaks and 23rd streets during September. Guns were involved in a street robbery on Cesar Chavez between Noe and Sanchez streets and in another on Noe Street between Duncan and 27th streets.
With so many armed incidents, Officer Lorraine Lombardo of the San Francisco Police Department's Mission Station suggests residents take additional safety measures.
She recommends carrying a whistle when walking at night and staying alert to possible crime. "Look ahead, and if you see anyone suspicious, cross the street," Lombardo says. "Don't confront them. Keep space around you."
Another good habit is to keep all valuables out of sight. "I've been telling women for a long time to get rid of the purses and go with the fanny packs," says Lombardo. "If you are on your way back from the laundry, don't have your coin purse in your hand. Put it away."
When at home, keep the doors locked. "People are not locking their deadbolts, and they need to do that," she says. "It's not that hard to get in a door unless it's double-locked."
Since his store was burglarized, Schwartz has a new outlook on safety. "I'm in the process of installing TV monitoring," he says. He's also planning to put automatic lights near the entrance to Last Laugh, and employees no longer close up alone. Standing at the door of his café, Schwartz keeps a close watch on cars that slow down near his corner. Ultimately, though, he and his staff are moving on. "We're all surviving," he says. "We're doing just fine."