By CAITLIN ESCH

If it weren’t for insurance companies, one 24th Street restaurant owner would have bought a gun long ago.

“If you’re protected, you’re not scared; you’re ready for them,” said Jose, who has two teenage sons and asked that his business and last name remain anonymous for fear of gang-related retaliation. “[Robbers] know which store owners have guns, and they don’t go there.”

Some on the commercial corridor are closing earlier. (Lola Chávez)

As crime continues an upward trajectory, Mission District merchants are thinking twice about protection. Citywide, robberies have increased almost 23 percent from 2005 to 2007, reaching a peak in 2006, according to the FBI. Overall, crime is up in the Mission 12.5 percent from the same time last year, according to Captain Stephen Tacchini.

“They don’t feel safe, and they don’t feel the city is doing enough, as a whole, to protect them,” said Erick Arguello, owner of Café Arguello on Mission Street and president of Lower 24th Street Merchant Association. “Merchants are desperate and scared and they’re looking for ways to protect themselves.”

For some merchants, tightening security means installing ironclad windows, security cameras, and alarm systems. For Jose, safety comes in the form of a gun, and he intends to arm himself pending insurance company approval.

“If you kill me, my house will cry,” said Jose, roughly translating a Mexican proverb. “But if I kill you, your house will cry. Better your house than mine.”

Last year, two men threatened Jose and his wife, and made off with $2,000. Weaponless, Jose didn’t fight back. Instead, he met the robbers’ demands and called police after they fled.

“By the time the cops took the description, they were in Oakland already,” Jose laughed.

Now, Jose closes at 9 p.m., an hour earlier than last year. After dark, he locks the front door, allowing only customers he recognizes to enter.

The precautions come in the wake of a violent crime spree. In the past month, the Mission saw eight homicides, most around 24th Street. “Someone was killed down the street,” Jose said. “People are scared and they don’t want to come here… All the small business owners around here have lost money in the past month.”

At noon on a Saturday, his restaurant was empty. Motioning toward a roomful of vacant chairs, his wife said, “We used to be full here at this time. Now, nothing.” The couple estimated business was down by half. He is not alone.

Vladimir, owner of La Parrilla Grill on 24th Street, said his restaurant has been robbed twice in the past four years. Vladimir, who asked his last name not appear in print, has already installed security cameras, an alarm system, and iron-barred windows, and he is considering closing an hour earlier.

“I’m not sure having a gun during an armed robbery would help,” Vladimir said. “But small business owners who want one should get training, and learn the appropriate use for their gun.”

Café Arguello has never been robbed, but Arguello said windows were recently smashed by stray bullets. Broken windows and graffiti inevitably mean higher insurance rates. Vladimir fixes broken windows at his own expense rather than reporting to insurance companies.

And if his business has been safe, his family hasn’t.

“My nieces and nephews really struggle here,” he said. “My mom has been mugged on the bus, my brother beaten. I was caught in the middle of gunfire walking down 24th Street… If you stick around here long enough, you’ll see a lot like that.”

After witnessing a shooting while walking to her car three weeks ago, Maria Flores–the new owner of 89-year-old Roosevelt Tamale Parlor–plans to bar the windows and install a security system in her 24th Street restaurant.

Flores also began closing an hour earlier six months ago, locking doors at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.

“We don’t stay open late, because the people don’t come anymore,” said Flores.

As of last week, 119 officers were stationed in the Mission, up from 105 officers just weeks before. Radio cars, motorcycles and beat patrols were recently deployed to the neighborhood in greater numbers, according to Tacchini.

Merchants agree that though the recent influx of police helps, it won’t get to the root of neighborhood crime.

“You can put a thousand cops over here, and crime will be the same,” concluded Jose. “We need to get more things for young people: sports and activities. Because around here, parents work long hours, and they don’t know what’s going on… We need to show them how it is not to live in war.”

Follow Us

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *