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N.B. family-owned restaurant feels ‘violated’ as crimes pile up at eatery

Click to play video: 'N.B. small business struggling with vandalism'
N.B. small business struggling with vandalism
WATCH: The owners of a Saint John business say continued vandalism is taking its toll. As the holiday season approaches, the local chamber of commerce says 2023 has been very difficult for small businesses. Nathalie Sturgeon reports. – Dec 12, 2023

Tops Pizza and Restaurant has been nestled on the corner of Union and Waterloo streets in Saint John, N.B., for the past 35 years, owned by a local family.

But there is still shattered glass on the ground by a door that was broken open in a robbery last week. It’s the third time the business has been vandalized. This time it even had its cash register stolen.

“The last incident was last week we had somebody break in our side door, come in, rip our cash register right out and run up the street with it,” owner, Litsa Daeres, said in an interview on Tuesday.

Police have recovered the cash register, but she said the impact continues to be felt by both staff and her family.

“Well, you feel violated,” she said. “It feels weird to know that somebody like that was in here. Like walking over there, it just feels weird that somebody was actually in here that was not supposed to be here, was here.”

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She said her staff sometimes don’t feel safe, adding that she understands the challenges facing those who might be committing crimes against her business.

Daeres said the police presence has been lacking in the area despite the force saying it had stepped up foot patrols in Waterloo Village.

“It is difficult,” she said. “I mean we get through it every single time, but it is difficult. I feel like they are sick of my name. Every time I call the police, whether it actually breaking a window, people acting out out front while customers are getting in, in our parking lot going through cars, I almost feel silly calling them all the time.”

Daeres took to Facebook to share what happened to the restaurant, which has been shared more than 100 times.

More than 30 people commented, including one who posted a video of a man attempting to break into a building in the area.

Saint John Coun. Brent Harris also commented, adding he had almost $4,000 stolen from the Saint John Tool Library & DIY Workshop.

Daeres said the building they own holds too much history to consider moving, but they do hope more is done to help businesses in the uptown area that are experiencing more and more incidents like the one at Tops Pizza and Restaurant.

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But the support of her customers has been great, she said. Many people, she explained, reached out after she posted just to inquire about whether they were still open.

Tops is the kind of place where customers are known by name, and she said it is important to everyone involved that it stay a safe space.

The Saint John Region Chamber said the 2023 season has not been a good one for sales, and it doesn’t help that businesses are also experiencing vandalism and robberies.

Fraser Wells, who sits on the board of directors, said sales for this year are not as good as in 2021.

“It doesn’t make life any easier in what is already a pretty challenging environment for small business,” he said in an interview.

Inflation and labour shortages continue to wreak havoc on small businesses.

“It has not been an easy year for a lot of business,” he said.

But Wells said the small business community in Saint John is among the best, and it is important to support them in whatever way you can, including visiting businesses and giving a positive review or sharing their posts on social media.

“A challenging period to get through but the chamber is here to support our small business community.”

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Increased foot patrols

Saint John Police Force spokesperson Staff Sgt. Sean Rocca told Global News police “did focus our foot patrols in the Uptown/ Waterloo Village area based on concerns expressed by residents and business owners.”

“Of course, an increased presence of police is always one tactic to deter crime itself, but it is not the solution to many other social issues that impact a specific community and create concerns for residents,” he wrote in an email.

“Based on cases reported to police in terms of break and enters, damage to property, and thefts as a whole in the Waterloo Village area there is virtually zero increase this year over last and a decrease from 2021.”

He said the force is in the process of conducting an operational staffing review to determine how many additional frontline officers may be needed to adopt a “more proactive model” in the face of “complex social issues impacting our community.”

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