Looting: Up close, personal

    Given the choice, I much prefer to write about the lighter side of owning my own business. But try as I might, I can find nothing humorous about the "protest" last Thursday night, when one of my stores in San Francisco was brutally looted.
    I got the call about midnight. Our alarm company had called my manager, and he called me as soon as he reached the store. Two huge 8-foot by 8-foot display windows had been smashed and the 5,000 square foot store was exposed to the street.
   The looters were gone. My manager was there with three San Francisco police officers, but the police werenít staying long, perhaps another five minutes. They were needed elsewhere.
   My manager wanted to know what he should do. I tried to think. The image of the truck driver being pulled from his cab in Los Angeles and nearly beaten to death, shown over and over again on the television news, was very fresh in my mind.
    I asked him what it looked like in the surrounding area. He said it was eerily quiet, except for a couple of evil-looking cars cruising by occasionally.
    The police were leaving, he said. What should he do?
    Never have I felt so helpless. It was midnight and we had no construction materials to close up the gaping hole in the store.
    The damage and the loss of merchandise (mostly NFL and major league baseball jackets and caps) was already substantial.
    The police had no answers. They had to go; there was nothing more they could do. My manager offered to stay the night in the store. He had been in class all night and hadnít seen the news from L.A. Another car, circling like a vulture, rumbled by.
    What would you do? I thought of the pictures from Los Angeles of the Korean on the roof of his store, firing his gun at approaching looters. Admirable or foolish?
    I didnít own a gun, anyway, so it wasnít an option. I owned plenty of baseball bats, though, and my manager and I discussed making a stand.
    It wasnít discussed in much depth. The thought of lying in wait for a mob to burst through the broken window, hoping none of them were carrying guns, and then engaging in hand-to-hand combatÖwell, Iím not ashamed to say itís not my style. Iíll protect my family from anyone or anything, but Raider and 49er jackets are another matter.
    The police were now gone. My manager was alone. There was no one on the street. I was 25-30 minutes away. What should he do, he asked again. Make a decision.
    I made it. Get the hell out of there. Now. What about the store, he asked. Itís naked, an open invitation to the looters still roaming the area. Leave it, I said, trying desperately to think of another option. Weíll take our chances. Meet me at sunrise.
    Sure enough, the looters came back. Smashed two more windows, stole thousands more in merchandise. When I arrived at the store at 5:40 a.m. a local street person told me I had missed the last carload of looters by about twenty minutes. My initial reaction was disappointment, followed quickly by a rational relief.
    He also told me an early morning employee of the fast food restaurant next door had made three or four trips into our open store and helped himself. I flagged down a passing police car and they arrested the stunned employee, taking him away in handcuffs. A small measure of satisfaction.
    The damage was done: $2,500 to replace the windows, thousands in merchandise stolen, most of the loss covered by insurance.
   As we cleaned up and barricaded the windows all day Friday, my managers and I discussed how lucky we were. None of my other four stores in the area were hit and others in the neighborhood were more damaged, including another sports store down the street carrying similar jackets and caps, which was virtually wiped out.
    And then there were the tragic stories from L.A., where businesses were torched and lives ruined.
    How ridiculously sad, I thought, to feel fortunate. I suffered through a sleepless night, holed up in my house, while hoodlums pillaged my business. I had felt disabling fear, vicious anger and, finally, resignation.
    But no one got hurt and the loss was manageable. We survived. And next time weíll be better prepared.
    Next time. I guess thatís why I really donít feel so lucky. None of us should.



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