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Amid rampant theft, Cow Hollow hardware store imposes escorts for shoppers

A man in a long sleeve blue shirt, glasses and caps reaches for item in a hardware store aisle as another man stands behind him
Fredericksen Hardware, a Cow Hollow stalwart, is using new security measures after 128 years in business. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

For the first time in 128 years, shoppers entering the Fredericksen Hardware store in San Francisco’s upscale Cow Hollow neighborhood are being met with an unusual sight: a table blocking the entrance with a sign explaining the store is dealing with “rampant shoplifting.”

Manager Sam Black said the store was forced to implement a “one-on-one shopping experience” about three weeks ago after repeated thefts. Customers must wait at the table to be escorted through the aisles, unable to browse freely.

“We have no choice,” Black said of the decision. Shoplifters became more brazen during the pandemic, he added, sometimes coming in groups to rip items from pegboards.

Man in black t-shirt stands behind a counter as man in long sleeve shirt stands in front looking down
Store Manager Sam Black, left, helps Jose Escoto at Fredericksen Hardware & Paint at 3029 Fillmore St. on Wednesday. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Though the store sought to limit customers’ access through social-distancing measures during the pandemic, Black said the table-block security measure is the first of its kind since it opened in 1896.

‘Six pans in a week’

On Wednesday, Black walked a Standard reporter to the place in the store where $80 cookware items are displayed. The pans, he says, are favored by thieves. 

“We have Lodge pans, Tramontina, RSVP—like, really high-quality stuff,” Black said. “Six pans in a week. That sucks. We have cameras all over.” 

Staff now bolt just one pan into the wall for display purposes and keep the rest of the stock hidden away, he said.

Three pans hang below a metal shelf
Pots are screwed to the display fixtures at Fredericksen Hardware & Paint. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

“I just want to keep it a general-store aesthetic, like back in 1896: You go into the general store, you get paint, houseware, stuff, feed for the animals, you know, whatever. I’ve always liked that aspect of it,” Black said. “But we just have to do this now because you see the cost of each pan.”

Although Black feels sad it has come to this, he was heartened by the reaction the table inspired in one suspicious character.

“When we first put it up, it was like a really bad movie,” Black said, laughing. “This guy was walking by, pushing his bike, all hunched over. He kind of curved in, saw the table, curved back out and kept walking. It’s, like, case in point, right there. It’s crazy.”

Though some residents posted their frustrations on Nextdoor, others empathized with the challenges that small businesses face.

Black said the problems first started during the pandemic when homeless people were moved into the area to stay in Lombard Street hotels as part of a shelter-in-place program. Since then, he has noticed that thieves will saunter past the store toward downtown in the morning and return in the evening, often trying their luck as they pass. 

Black said he gave up reporting thefts to the police due to long wait times for an officer to show up, if at all. The San Francisco Police Department sent links to its crime stats when asked about shoplifting in the area. 

“No neighborhood’s safe anymore,” he lamented. “It’s all vulnerable.”

People walk by the storefront of a hardware store
Fredericksen's Hardware has been in business since 1896. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Black said store owner Thomas Tognetti has seen retail conditions require changes at other locations. Alameda’s Pagano’s Hardware Mart closed in late January, while Sacramento’s Hollywood Hardware closed earlier in February due to what workers told a local television station were rising expenses and declines in foot traffic.

Black was frank about the Hardware Mart’s closure: “The theft was just nuts, just way worse than us.”

But he said Fredericksen’s and Pagano’s Hardware Towne Centre at Alameda’s South Shore Center are still going strong.

When The Standard asked Black what he would tell President Joe Biden about the store’s new measures, he said: “He has to wait to get help. And if he has a backpack, he has to check it in.”

Biden landed at Marina Green, a few blocks from the store, on Wednesday during a fundraising blitz of the Bay Area.

‘It’s really sad’

Customers who spoke to The Standard seemed to take the table and sign in stride.

Pablo Ponce, a local restaurant worker, stopped by to pick up a pair of box cutters, said he was surprised to see the table.

“It’s really sad,” said Ponce.

Woman at counter uses tool on small device as man in backwards cap looks on
Clerk Sarah Ali, right, helps Pablo Ponce set up a utility knife at Fredericksen Hardware & Paint on Wednesday. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Marquise Mazique, a local resident who was returning an item, echoed Ponce’s surprise.

“I definitely think it’s common, but for this area, I didn’t think so,” said Mazique.

“It’s surprising as far as I haven’t seen it here before, but it’s not surprising that it’s happening,” said customer Amy Ephraim. “I’m seeing it in stores all over the place because I think shoplifting is rampant.”