Vandalism & Security Measures in The Castro

Battered by repeated burglaries and vandalism, Castro merchants enlist private security force

By Alex Barreira – Staff Reporter, San Francisco Business Times

Feb 1, 2021 Updated Feb 1, 2021, 1:33pm PST

After her store on Castro Street was burglarized for a few hundred dollars and suffered thousands more in damage last month, Terry Bennett thought she could sleep easier knowing the smashed windows were boarded up with plywood. Instead, trouble came through the door.

Three days later Bennett woke early to a phone call. Cliff’s Variety had been broken into again, this time patiently, with a blowtorch used to pop out the glass inset of the front door. A nearby merchant and police had chased down the suspect and Bennett said she recognized him immediately – she said he broke in to steal nearly the exact same merchandise in 2017.

She’s got plenty of company. While the pandemic made last year miserable for many, businesses along the Castro commercial corridor say they are bearing the added financial and emotional toll of a rising tide of burglaries and vandalism on a near constant basis. Reported burglaries increased 76% year-over-year between in the police district that includes the Castro …

The Castro neighborhood is taking matters into their own hands in response to the widespread property crimes. The Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District (CBD) is working on a program to add security cameras to high traffic areas, although some business owners have expressed concerns about privacy.

Andrea Aiello [CBD Executive Director] said. “There’s just so many broken windows in first-floor businesses.” Some of them belong to Cody Laxo. At Willkommen beer garden on 2198 Market St. he has had to replace five front windows, each at about $1,000 apiece, since last March, including twice last month. The string lights he put up to “make the neighborhood feel lively in a really dark time” were also stolen. “It’s like, ‘When are the punches going to stop?'” said Laxo. “It’s a hard trend to watch because you want to be compassionate, but you really have to protect yourself.”…

So Laxo and others have beefed up the security at their businesses with security cameras, 24-hour lighting, gates on parklets, heavy duty locks and upgraded alarm systems. … At Cliff’s Variety, Bennett felt she had no choice but to install a metal gate over her front door after someone took a skateboard to smash in the glass. She estimates she has spent between $25,000 to $30,000 out of pocket because of property crimes during the pandemic… Meanwhile, she and other merchants worry that turning their businesses into “fortresses,” as one put it, would change not only their advertising appeal but the character of the neighborhood.  “I don’t want that image for our community after dark,” Bennett said.

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