By Thomas K. Pendergast
Phyllis Nabhan had been feeling uneasy and less safe for quite a while watching other businesses in the neighborhood along Clement Street get burglarized one after the other.
But as she arrived at her shop Gaslight & Shadows Antiques on the morning of Jan. 24 her worst fears were realized, when she found it was her turn.
“When I came on Monday morning, I just felt not safe anymore and not happy about having a business anymore; that people could just take what they want and there’s no consequence for them,” Nabhan said. “It’s so awful what’s happened in my city. This used to be a safe city. I can’t carry a purse. I can’t wear jewelry. I have to not make eye contact when I’m walking around the streets and be defensive. Being on the bus, I have to be aware of my surroundings at all times. I don’t feel safe anymore.”
The burglars broke the glass on her front door and made off with almost $13,000 of merchandise, including: rings, sterling silver, two cases of jewelry including expensive ruby-emerald jewelry, a big Tiffany-style lamp, an entire case of watches, one of her designer purses and her laptop computer.
Nabhan belongs to the Clement Street Merchants Association, so whenever a merchant gets robbed, burglarized or vandalized, they put out an email to the group.
“It started during COVID where we started getting a lot of these emails and it was almost every day that somebody else was burglarized – not only once, twice, or three times,” she said. “So, when I had the glass put back on the door, it’s a special kind of glass; it’s three layers with plastic. But I also put a plywood back so that it’s going to be very difficult for them to get in,” she said.
“I’m afraid they’re going to come back. So now I worry all the time. So I hired a new alarm company and I’ve got cameras coming…. And I’m going to put two cameras in here…. The cameras will set off my phone, give me an alert with a video if any movement happens.
“I’m getting a brand-new alarm that’s going to be bigger and louder,” she said.
She said the previous Friday night, the alarm went off. When she went there on Saturday, she was wondering why it did. Then Saturday night she kept getting texts and alerts that her alarm was going off again, so she phoned the tenant above her store, who told her that it wasn’t going off at the moment. But then later he would text or phone her that her alarm was going off again. So she thought maybe there was an electrical short in the alarm system.
On Sunday she thought she should turn the alarm off and call the alarm company to come and check it for electrical problems. That is the night the burglars broke into her store.
“I turned it off Sunday because it was bothering the neighbors in the restaurant next door and on Sunday night they jiggled the door and the alarm didn’t go off and so they broke in.
“The police said, ‘Oh they set you up. They knew you would turn it off.’ And the police also said, ‘When they want to test an alarm to see our response time, they’ll jiggle your door and then they’ll go sit in their car and wait to see how long it takes for police to come so they know how many minutes they have inside your store to rob the store.’”
The week prior to the burglary someone she thought appeared to be suspicious visited her shop, but she said he didn’t seem like the average customer she gets that might want to buy something.
Nabhan said he didn’t say anything to her, even after she asked him to please use some hand sanitizer she had near the entrance. Instead he quickly walked around the store hunched over a little and looking around back and forth. She suspects he was casing the place to see what valuables she had.
After getting art degree in college, she went to Afghanistan and lived there for three years where she was a clothes designer, some of which she exported back to stores in San Francisco for sale.
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur and I made a lot of money with the clothes and invested in tribal antiques in Afghanistan and started importing them to America,” Nabhan said. “I got to know all the antique dealers. There were a lot of antique stores in the ‘70s in San Francisco,” she said.
“I really wanted a store of my own and this store became available in 1976. It had been an antique store and the owner had to move. I took it over and that’s how I got into having it.”
Kashya Shei lives in the Sunset District and heard about the burglary on Nextdoor.com, so she decided to visit the store for the first time on a Saturday afternoon to show her support.
“I just thought it was so wrong to do that to a small, long-existing store and a small shop owner,” Shei said. “It kind of broke my heart. So that’s why I came out. I thought. ‘Oh, I’ll just buy something.’ So that’s why I’m here,” Shei said. “I didn’t even know it existed but it just seemed wrong. The City’s not helping so we need to help in whatever little way we can.”
The GoFundMe address is gofundme.com/f/gaslight-and-shadows-needs-your-help.
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