Small San Francisco stores consider extra security after high-profile break-ins

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - San Francisco business groups on Thursday told KTVU small stores are increasingly eyeing extra security measures in the wake of several high-profile break-ins at high-end retailers.

"One hit and you've got a few thousand bucks in your pocket," said Henry Karnilowicz, the president of the Council of District Merchants and head of the South of Market Business Association. "So people are thinking, 'What shall we do to prevent this from recurring all the time?'"

The latest incident-- three armed and masked men on Wednesday entered the Tiffany's store at the Westfield Shopping Centre, ordered everyone to the ground, and forced an employee to open a display case. They fled with an unknown amount of jewelry.

"We're very concerned that they committed this brazen act in the middle of the day," said San Francisco Police Sgt. Monica Macdonald. "We are pulling surveillance video to take a look at it to see if we can determine how they were able to make their way through the mall, and certainly their route of escape."

Macdonald said this and a series of other high profile robberies around the city so far do not appear to be connected.

In November, thieves smashed a vehicle into the now-closed entrance of a Union Square Prada store. Thousands of dollars worth of purses were stolen the same month from a nearby Chanel store.

In January, burglars used a U-Haul truck to break into a Fisherman's Wharf Patagonia store. A week later, gold nuggets were stolen from the Wells Fargo Museum by thieves who held a guard at gunpoint.

"Studies are showing increases in anger and anxiety in society and I think we're seeing some of that in these little bit more shocking crimes," said Golden Gate University consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow.

Yarrow said high-end retailers are in a difficult position, because heavy and visible security turns shoppers off. "They can't rely just on the one-percenters for their business and so they're trying to create an atmosphere that's more welcoming to a variety of people," said Yarrow. "So these stores have to find a way to protect their merchandise but not look like they're being overly zealous or pinpointing anyone in particular."

Earlier this week, a Union Square DSW store had several shoes worth as much as $700 a pair stolen during business hours. But there are security efforts underway in the neighborhood. Since last year, Union Square merchants have been testing a network of 22 high-definition cameras linked together to better monitor and track thieves.

Karnilowicz says small retailers in the city's South of Market district and Mission neighborhood have seen a recent spike in break-ins too. He said some are planning to place bars on their windows. "I think it's just going to make the place look blighted, it's going to turn people away and don't think we want that," said Karnilowicz. "We need to come up with something better and I think security cameras and maybe laminated glass, maybe that'll be the cure."