The first two times Edgardo Campos’ shop was robbed, no one got hurt. But the third time, when the intruders told him to get on the ground, Campos said he heard God’s voice telling him to remain standing.
“It was closing time. And we was looking for the little piece of a watch,” said Campos, 65, who runs J.J. Jewelers on 24th Street, a small shop that he first opened in 1991.
On that evening in July, 2009, he had his guys searching for the missing watch piece in different corners of the store, and they all got on the ground when told, except Campos. Even though they were clad in ski masks, Campos was later able to identify the robbers by looking at their eyes.
Unfortunately, he also got hurt in the chaos of the robbery, narrowly escaping major injury from a bullet coming for his brain.
“I think God helped me out. The tip of the gun, that was facing my brain … and by the time the bullet went out, it was facing the other way,” Campos said, demonstrating with his hands the bullet’s trajectory. It grazed his cheek. Aside from the 13 stitches he needed, he was safe.
Campos remembers struggling to get police to help him investigate, and on different occasions has done his own detective work, tracking down information and security camera footage by himself.
Once, when someone tried to sell his stolen goods at his son’s nearby store, Campos remembers calling the cops to report the thief’s location. They told him: “Oh no, Mr. Caaampos, no chase this guy, please. No chase him because it’s our job,” Campos said, mimicking an American accent.
“I say, ‘look at this, man. If you don’t help me out, I will go get him myself,’” Campos said. In the heat of the moment, he mentioned a baseball bat with nails and a gun, both of which he says were bluffs that he hoped would get the police to come help him out.
“In 10 minutes, they arrest me!” Campos said. “I said, ‘man, you getting the wrong guy! Me, I’m the guy who called you guys!’” When he pointed out the culprit, the police didn’t believe him, but Campos assured them, “I’m [an] old guy and I have a lot of experience: which one is good, which one is bad.”
Although he wasn’t arrested, he and his employees still had to close up shop and go answer questions, which Campos said made him feel bad. “[There] could be in this world a bunch of liars — not J.J., you know what I’m saying?” He prides himself on being a hard worker, raising his five children, and not asking for handouts or ever going to jail.
Campos first moved to San Francisco as a child from El Salvador. Growing up, he remembers playing soccer and low-riding in the Mission. “It was so nice, the neighborhood, peaceful,” Campos reminisces. He used to eat at the burger place, and at Paco’s Tacos across the street.
These days, he thinks the area has changed, some things for the better, and others for the worse. Ten years ago, Campos installed a security gate, which he uses to buzz people into the store.
Nonetheless, Campos encourages his family, and even others in the community, to join the jewelry business. He taught other local jewelers the trade, and his son runs the successful Campos Jewelers further down Mission Street, in the Excelsior.
“He was one of the lazy sons, [and now] he is one of the best in town,” Campos laughs.