Online network for small businesses in SF helps catch thieves

Jonathan Bloom Image
ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Online network for neighborhood businesses helping to catch thieves
EMBED <>More Videos

An online network for neighborhood businesses has now become a useful weapon against shoplifters.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Some small business owners in San Francisco have a new weapon against thieves. Now teamwork and technology are showing shoplifters who is boss.

Amid the friendly ambiance of Noe Valley's Two Birds Boutique are some unfriendly reminders of a retail reality.

"It's really an unfortunate part of our business and it's a lot bigger part of our business than people think," Two Birds Boutique owner Susanna Taylor said.

From a pair of earrings to a whole rack of jeans, they've had to cover the place with cameras to discourage thieves from taking their merchandise.

"We kind of have a sixth sense about, you know, when people come in who are probably not actual customers," Taylor said.

That sense was practically sounding alarm bells when one woman approached the jewelry display.

Her face has been obscured in ABC7 News' video because she hasn't been charged with a crime.

Taylor says she turned her back for an instant and the woman was gone, jewelry in hand -- the whole thing caught on tape.

"We definitely knew something was up, but they're really good at what they do," she said.

Now, having the crime on video only helps if you know who the person in the video is.

Taylor had never seen the woman before but she posted a picture from the surveillance cameras on a private network for neighborhood businesses called Townsquared.

One block away, salon owner Lori Koon was checking her email and saw the photo. "And I realized that she had been in the salon a few minutes before," Koon said.

In fact, Koon says the woman had tried to leave without paying. But she got something the boutique didn't, her name and address, enough for the police to pay the woman a visit.

It's all mind-boggling to the creators of Townsquared. When asked if he thought the platform would be used to solve crimes, Townsquared CEO Rohit Prakah said, "Not at all. In fact, that was a total surprise."

They built the website as a modern alternative to monthly merchants' association meetings. But they realized they had something and added a feature to send an urgent alert when a crook is on the loose.

"The kinds of individuals that are in and out of these stores tend to case a neighborhood, for lack of a better word. They're in and out a lot of other stores as well," Townsquared co-founder Nipul Patel said.

Townsquared is slowly rolling out to neighborhoods across San Francisco.

As for that shoplifter, well, she hasn't been charged. But she also hasn't been back.