The only noise inside Papa Potrero’s Pizza at 5:30 p.m. Thursday was the television in the corner. Not a single customer sat at a table.
Two weeks after the Sept. 20 shooting inside the pizzeria left two men dead, one injured, and two behind bars, diners have yet to return.
“Business had been slow anyway with the economy,” explained a longtime employee of the restaurant, who asked to remain anonymous because of safety concerns.
“But not like this. Look!” said the man, pointing toward the empty restaurant at 2700 24th St.
They’re afraid, he said of his customers. And they’re not alone.
“I’m afraid to go out at night and I’m afraid to talk about it. I don’t want retaliation,” said one nearby store owner who refused to give her name.
Erick Arguello, the founder of the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association, summed up the area’s past: “a huge history of violence.”
Nevertheless, Arguello said, the 1980s were a lot worse than it is now.
“That’s when the gangs really took hold. A lot of businesses closed and left,” said Arguello. Residents and merchants started the Lower 24th association in 1999 to address quality-of-life issues. The situation has been improving ever since, Arguello said.
“We didn’t have beat officers before,” said Arguello. “That has made a big difference.”
Kassa Mehari, who bought Tony’s Market,on the southwest corner of 24th and Hampshire streets three years ago, agreed.
“When I first started here, criminals had the power,” said Mehari. “Now police are by all the time.”
At one time people walked in off the street and and walked out without paying for their merchandise. Nowadays, he said, they “don’t even try” such stunts.
Some of the longer-term residents, however, disagreed.
Papa Potrero’s has been owned by a Punjabi family since 1987. And one long time employee there said that while it got better ten years ago, “there is a new generation of kids that don’t give a shit.”
The employee lives in the neighborhood and refuses to walk on 24th Street after 8 p.m. He advises his friends to go out only if they’re driving.
The closest shooting to Papa Potrero’s in the last five years happened in 2004, when a man walking with his son in broad daylight was shot at the corner of 24th and Hampshire streets. While several shootings have happened since, the nearest to Papa Potrero’s was the September 2008 double homicide outside Jack’s Club at 24th and Utah streets.
That was part of a particularly bloody 15-day stretch last summer that included eight shootings and five homicides — all within 10 blocks of Papa Potrero’s.
In the same month as the September 20th double homicide, San Francisco Crime Maps shows that there were two other aggravated assaults, one robbery, a vandalism charge, and a stolen automobile within 100 feet of the pizzeria at 2700 24th St.
Papa Potrero’s answer to crime has been five video cameras that record what’s happening inside and generally deter crime, the employee at Pizza Potrero’s said.
“Everybody running a business on 24th Street should have a video camera,” he said adding that they put up the first camera 17 years ago and then upgraded to digital cameras.
“You could see everything on those tapes,” the man said, referring to the recordings made during the shooting two weeks ago. “Police looked at the tapes and said, ‘Good job. We won’t even need a witness.’”
As to his own business predicament, he said only time would make a difference.
“In three to four weeks people will be forgetting, and come back,” he said.
“We don’t sell shootings. We don’t sell drugs. We sell pizza!”