A coffee shop in Vancouver’s Chinatown has spent thousands of dollars on security measures in an effort to keep its employees safe after two break-ins, three break-in attempts and one incident where an employee was threatened with a knife in just one month.
While the problems facing Chinatown have been brewing for years, Stephanie Kayser with Dalina café said they started to escalate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The challenges in the neighbourhood have been getting increasingly, kind of tough,” Kayser told Global News in an interview Monday.
Kayser has been running Dalina’s on Main at Georgia streets since 2019, and said in the last month the business has experienced two break and enters, two broken windows and a smashed front door.
“Unfortunately above and beyond the property crime … we do deal with a lot of violence and aggression towards our staff,” Kayser said.
Dalina is inclusive Kayser said, and tries to help the community – including keeping its washrooms open.
On Sept. 2, Kayser said an individual they’d been helping with free coffee and food for a week pulled out a knife and threatened staff when he was refused a yogurt.
Dalina has since reinforced its window glass, added more security cameras and installed a panic button under the counter.
“I think it’s one of those things that maybe should have just been done in the beginning,” Kayser said of the extreme measure.
“It just gives our staff a little more peace of mind that they can have quick contact when they need.”
Chinatown recently saw a violent week beginning with a random triple stabbing at the close of the Light Up festival on Sept. 10.
Blair Evan Donnelly is charged with three counts of aggravated assault for allegedly attacking three strangers at the family-friendly event, and remains in custody pending a psychiatric assessment
The 64 year old, who was found not criminally responsible for killing his 16-year old daughter in 2006, was free on a day pass from the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital.
On Sept. 14, police said two shopkeepers in their 70s were assaulted in their store.
Global News spoke with one of the alleged victims who does not want to be identified for safety reasons, and she said the suspect, who’d been in the store before, came in and started throwing things around.
When they asked him to leave, she said he pushed her husband to the floor and kicked him in the head twice.
Fifty-year-old Wayne Northey was arrested two days later and charged with assault and assault causing bodily harm. He remains in custody on a detention order.
On Sept. 17, police received 911 calls about a man walking around Chinatown wearing camouflage clothing and carrying a sword in an umbrella.
The suspect was arrested and more weapons, including multiple knives, were seized.
Caleb Sorichetti, 42, is charged with carrying a concealed weapon and has since been released from custody.
“It’s been a bit of a tough month,” Kayser said.
Pacific Poke on Main Street just a few doors north of Dalina closed earlier this month due to “regular break-ins” according to a note posted on its door.
Chinatown had an approximately 15-17 per cent vacancy rate at the city’s last count. One of the problems, according to Vancouver Chinatown BIA president Jordan Eng, is that they are mostly larger spaces.
“There is lots of interest for smaller spaces and the second floor offices are still in high demand for new incubator businesses,” Eng said.
There is some good news: the former Starbucks location on Main at Keefer streets, which has been empty since at least 2019, has finally been leased.
Restaurant-bakery Caveman Shamshiri also recently moved in to the old Gold Stone Bakery location at 139 Keefer Street. Gold Stone closed in 2020 after 33 years as a legacy eatery in Chinatown.
The new restaurant which specializes in low-carb keto food is embracing the neighbourhood’s challenges, along with the beloved Hong Kong café’s original chandelier and vinyl seats.
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“We find that we really love the community even though it’s in an area where there is a lot of, you know, activities that might not be business friendly,” Caveman Shamshiri catering facilitator Eliza Ip told Global News Monday.
“We still feel that if we can give back to the community, that would be a great thing.”
Dalina is still deciding whether to spend $49,000 on roll-down shutters as it encourages other businesses to not give up.
“Try to hold your ground, try to keep the lights on,” Kayser said.
“I believe that Chinatown has a lot to offer and I think were just going through a rough time and we need to come together as a community.”