Thieves put a target on Fillmore

Fillmoresign

By CHRIS BARNETT

A surge in daring grab and run thefts is plaguing Fillmore Street merchants.

Salespeople at upscale fashion boutiques on upper Fillmore say shoplifting has now morphed into blatant thievery and that some fear for their personal safety. Merchants report numerous instances — more than half a dozen in August alone — in which people case a store, wait until staffers are distracted, then scoop up merchandise and dash out.

Police play down the idea of a crime spree.

“I’m not certain there is a dramatic increase in crime,” says Lt. Michael Nevin of Northern Station. “What happens is that once people are talking about it on social media, which is useful, sometimes the stories are repeated over and over again.”

That’s cold comfort for neighborhood retailers, who say they are increasingly on edge.

“Many merchants feel the grab and run crimes are increasing and getting more violent,” says Vas Kiniris, executive director of the Fillmore Merchants Association and the owner of the Zinc Details design shop. “There have been no injuries so far, but employees tell us they feel unsafe in their work environment.”

Sharon Haag, manager of the Lilith boutique at 2029 Fillmore, says the crime is “nonstop.” She tells of a man and woman scanning her store from outside, then walking in, splitting up and suddenly grabbing merchandise before bolting. “I’m paranoid,” she says. “This street is too important. We need protection.”

Lindsay Schutzman, assistant manager of the Sandro boutique at 2033 Fillmore, tells of an “older, disheveled man” stealing a $1,600 leather coat. Then, several weeks later, another person came in to return it for a cash refund, claiming it didn’t fit.

Workers at other neighborhood boutiques, including Intermix, Eileen Fisher, Curve, Scotch & Soda, Mio and Rebecca Minkoff, also report being hit by grab and run thieves in recent weeks.

In late August, a man walked into SpaceNK, the cosmetics shop on the corner of Fillmore and Pine, and slipped a $260 facial product into his jacket.

“He denied it but got hostile, left with it and we hit the panic button,” says the clerk, who did not want to be identified. “The police were here in 10 minutes, but he was gone. There’s just very little police presence on the street.”

A regular “cop on the beat” would be a visible deterrent, Kiniris and other merchants claim.

“We used to have a cop walking around, but not any more,” says Sabrina Lo, manager of the Ralph Lauren boutique, who notes: “Some older men case us from outside, walk in, hide in the blind spots in the store and, when we’re helping other customers, grab a pile of shirts and run out.”

Nevin says Northern District “is adding foot patrols in the entire district and Fillmore is in the discussion.” He says foot patrols are already being deployed in Japantown, on Polk Street and in the Lower Haight. “Northern is adequately staffed,” he says, “but we look forward to more staffing.”

Kiniris, a member of the Community Police Advisory Board, heaps praise on Northern Station. “We congratulate them for the amazing job they do,” Kiniris says. “No other captain and lieutenant have been as attentive to the needs of the merchant community during my 25 years on the street.”

Kiniris says small business retailers on Fillmore are already in crisis due to high rents and the threat from online retailers. “If we have to start hiring security guards, which some stores have done, it only aggravates our costs,” he says.

Northern District officers led the arrest of three men who on August 8 allegedly brandished weapons and robbed the Elite Fine Jewelry shop at 2480 Sacramento Street. The suspects remain in jail.

“My plainclothes officers and investigators were on that immediately,” Northern District Captain John Jaimerena told the merchants in an email, “and conducted one of the best investigations I have seen in my 24 years here.”