If you’ve walked past Swan Oyster Depot recently, you may have noticed a new sturdy metal gate dividing its front entrance from the busy streets outside. Co-owner Steve Sancimino refers to the gate as the seafood restaurant’s “moat” and one he hopes will hinder the recurring vandalism the business has dealt with in the last few months.

“We’ve resorted to protecting ourselves with an iron gate,” Sancimino told SFGATE.

The celebrated and controversial 110-year-old restaurant saw a steady rise in smashed windows over the last three years, but Sancimino says vandalism began to ramp up beginning in February when the restaurant’s storefront windows were smashed early that month, followed by another incident in late February and a third in mid-March. KNTV first reported the defacement at Swan Oyster Depot.

By that point, the Sancimino family was fed up with paying about $900 out of pocket each time to replace the damaged windows, so it decided to invest between $5,000 and $10,000 on the iron gate that was installed a week ago. Each time a window was broken, Sancimino said they couldn’t make out the person responsible from security footage since they were masked but found that the perpetrators never tried to break into the shop itself. Sancimino added that his restaurant hasn’t been the only one affected on the block either.

“When you walk through our neighborhood, it’s the same thing,” Sancimino said. “Most [business owners] Walk through these land mines and accept it as the new norm. It’s hard to accept it, but we have. It’s not like people are breaking in and stealing things. They just break the stores and go on to the next. It’s senseless.”

Swan Oyster Depot, located at 1517 Polk St. in San Francisco, recently added an iron gate to its storefront to fight an onslaught of vandalism the owner says the store has recently faced.

Courtesy of Swan Oyster Depot

This recent string of vandalism at Swan Oyster Depot has been demoralizing for Sancimino, especially as he points to dead-end results produced from filing police reports. He also believes the city can do more to assist small businesses in addressing vandalism. Last September, Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Gordon Mar launched the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant, which allowed business owners to receive up to $2,000 worth of support for storefront vandalism, which included graffiti or damaged doors, windows or locks. It’s unclear how many businesses have applied to the grant since its start.

The total number of property crimes is hard to measure since many of them go unreported to San Francisco police, as other business owners have previously told SFGATE, but SFGATE found that San Francisco has also had higher rates of property crimes within the last five years compared to other major cities around the country. Still, in looking at citywide crime data gathered by the San Francisco Police Department, San Francisco has seen a decrease in overall crime rates compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Sancimino reports that no vandalism issues have occurred in the week since installing the metal barrier. He shared that during his 50 years of working at the business, he hasn’t seen as much vandalism as he has during the past three years. Dealing with this spike throughout the pandemic, he says, has made it all the more challenging.

“We never closed during COVID,” Sancimino said. “It’s almost like a double whammy.”

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