Online Network for Neighborhood Businesses Helping Catch Thieves


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

Amid the friendly vibe of the Two Birds boutique in Noe Valley are some hostile reminders of a retail reality.

“It really is an unfortunate part of our business and it’s a much bigger part of our business than people realize,” said Susanna Taylor, owner of the Two Birds store.

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

“We kind of have a sixth sense, you know, when people come in that probably aren’t real customers,” Taylor said.

This feeling practically sounded the alarm bells when a woman approached the jewelry display.

Her face was obscured in the ABC7 News video because she was not charged with a felony.

Taylor says she turned her back on him for a moment and the woman was gone, jewelry in hand – all filmed.

“We really 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 photo from the surveillance cameras on a private network for neighborhood businesses called Townsquared.

A block away, salon owner Lori Koon was checking her emails and saw the photo. “And I realized she had been in the living room a few minutes before,” Koon said.

In fact, Koon says the woman tried to leave without paying. But she got something the shop didn’t have, her name and address, enough for the police to visit her.

All of this is mind boggling for the creators of Townsquared. When asked if he thought the platform would be used to solve crimes, Townsquared CEO Rohit Prakah replied, “Not at all. In fact, it was a total surprise.”

They designed the website as a modern alternative to the monthly meetings of merchant associations. But they realized they had something and added a feature to send an urgent alert when a scammer is on the loose.

“The types of people who walk in and out of these stores tend to cram a neighborhood, for lack of a better word. They also come in and out of many other stores,” said Townsquared co-founder Nipul Patel.

Townsquared is slowly expanding into the neighborhoods of San Francisco.

As for that shoplifter, well, she hasn’t been charged. But she didn’t come back either.

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