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Updated: City slow to respond to theft and crime documented at b8ta stores; owner temporarily closes Union Square and Hayes Valley locations

Updated: City slow to respond to theft and crime documented at b8ta stores; owner temporarily closes Union Square and Hayes Valley locations
b8ta Hayes Valley storefront | Image: Ivan/Google Maps
By Carrie Sisto - Published on January 29, 2021.

Businesses throughout San Francisco have struggled with theft and break-ins during the pandemic, and the founder of electronics and housewares retailer b8ta recently took to Twitter in an effort to demand action.

B8ta chief executive Vibhu Norby launched a Twitter thread this month to chronicle his staff's challenges and share store security cameras catching theft in action at b8ta's Hayes Valley store. Hayes Valley has been hard hit by the pandemic, with many stores shuttering including one Walgreens due to theft. District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston even worked to create a window replacement reimbursement program to offer some support to businesses facing expensive window repair costs, but security in the neighborhood has been left up to individual business owners.

Norby’s Twitter thread went viral this week, and was first covered by SF Gate on Wednesday. Norby said he also did broadcast interviews with the local ABC and NBC affiliates on Wednesday. But he heard nothing from city officials until yesterday.

“I genuinely thought someone would have reached out by now given my Tweets have more than a million views plus the broadcast exposure,” Norby said.

On Twitter Thursday, Norby detailed his discussion with “a city official” who told him that the best solution is a business improvement district (BID), or community benefit district. The Union Square BID has a large network of private security cameras, but Norby said he wasn’t even aware it existed until his call with the unnamed city official yesterday. Hayes Valley businesses haven’t formed a similar BID largely because, as Norby Tweeted, “it is a complicated process to create one.”

B8ta has three stores in San Francisco, and this week decided to close its Union Square store out of concern for employees’ safety. The Union Square store had “multiple muggings on the same block, including one at knifepoint,” Norby said. Given the low foot traffic in the area during the ongoing shutdown, and the security issues, shutting the store for the time being seemed the best solution.

“We will re-evaluate the situation [in Union Square] in a few weeks,” but b8ta doesn’t currently have a reopening plan for that location, according to Norby.

B8ta has reallocated staff from the Union Square store to the Hayes Valley storefront, which “is, even with the problems, one of our best stores,” Norby said. The extra staff has already paid off at the store, he added.

“One of our reallocated employees at Hayes stopped an aggressive customer who had been casing the store from entering.”

The same day Norby’s Twitter thread made news, District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced a new community liaison program aimed at doing more targeted outreach to different neighborhoods. The lead community liaison for District 5 is Eric Quandt, who is a former San Francisco public defender and a District 5 native, according to Preston aide Jen Snyder.

Quandt told us the program just launched, so things are still a work in progress. But his team is already meeting with District 5 community groups, such as the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association to learn about their priority issues, including “the struggle for small businesses to thrive in the current environment."

Quandt’s team is also “specifically focused on addressing the retail thefts at the two Walgreens stores in District 5.” He said they “have vigorously [begun] pursuing prosecutions where sufficient evidence is available,” and “look forward to partnering with our local police precincts to understand better why arrests haven’t been made where sufficient evidence is available.”

The community liaisons will also begin training Walgreens staff on strategies to report retail theft more completely, Quandt said.

Anyone that wants to contact the District 5 community liaison team can email him at [email protected]

Update February 4, 2021: Norby announced via Twitter last night that the Hayes Vally b8ta store will be closed indefinitely after the store manager was robbed at gun point.