Music Lovers SF Gets Ripped-Off...Again

"Smash and grab thieves," as Bay Area media are wont to call them, have hit Music Lovers Audio in San Francisco for the second time in a month. This time, at 4am on Wednesday, March 4, three thieves wearing bandanas or ski masks over their faces and either long hoodies or overcoats drove up in a red truck, smashed one of the store's windows, and tried to make off with as much they could.

Whether they're the same robbers who stole $20,000 in merchandise the first time around, let alone the same burglars who have pillaged AudioVision and Harmony Audio Video in San Francisco, and Audio High in Mountain View to the south, remains to be seen. If they are, they used a different truck than the one that smashed through the metal gates at AudioVision SF. (At least one neighboring resident reports his car window was smashed the same night, but that has become commonplace throughout the Bay Area.)

What is known for sure is that they avoided the window they smashed last time, which has since been reinforced with far stronger glass, and went for a more vulnerable entry point. The alarm system went off—Music Lovers had just installed a new security system the night before—but the robbers moved very fast.

Reached by phone, right when he was besieged by calls, Music Lovers' co-owner, Jae Wheeler, said he had no need to sensationalize the story. But he was acutely aware that many independent audio retailers have been hit recently in the Bay Area.

"Right now, we're in the middle of fortifying the store," he said. "Unfortunately, we have to put some heavy pipes across the windows. They tried to walk off with a Wilson Audio Sasha 2, but even three guys couldn't carry it quickly, so they gave up. In the first robbery, they grabbed a VTL 450 and dropped it. This time, it was an Ayre KX-R Twenty, but they dropped it as well before taking it.

"We have the serial numbers. If Audiogon ever advertises our stolen goods again, as they did with a Nagra preamp, and then fails to cooperate with us so we can tell the Police Department, I'm going to sue them."

CBS San Francisco reports that other recent robberies include San Francisco's Wells Fargo History Museum and the Patagonia store at Fisherman's Wharf. Both were hit by three burglars in ski masks. This writer found himself in the midst of a similar robbery in the Verizon store in Alameda, CA just a few months before we were priced out of the Bay Area, and relocated to the relative peace of Port Townsend, WA. In that little caper, three men wearing ski masks and sporting what looked like very real guns charged into the store, forcing everyone down, grabbed whatever they could (except my new iPhone), and marched us into the back of the store and told us to stay put while they fled. Three other Verizon stores in the Bay Area were hit the same week.

Audiophiles who suddenly discover great deals on damaged equipment on eBay, Audiogon, and the like would do the entire community a great favor by contacting the San Francisco Police Department.

volvic's picture

and even worse for the police who should have been aware they could strike twice. Perhaps Broken Window Policing needs to be implemented more vigorously in SF with more boots on the ground? I feel bad for these retailers and shame about damaging all that gear.

Priaptor's picture

The police can't win in this country. IF they were more "vigilant" then they are accused of harassment and all sorts of nonsense and when something bad, like this, happens it is there fault and people come out of the woodwork and want more of them with "more boots on the ground".

corrective_unconscious's picture

The police could easily win in most situations if they wouldn't start out by treating an incident of jaywalking as a fight to the death, or if they didn't chokehold some schlubb illegally selling tobacco to death.

Then maybe they could patrol various neighborhoods more often looking for genuine crimes...and in those cases few would object if a suspect with a gun wound up shot.

Priaptor's picture

First a little dramatic, no?

As to the Garner incident unfortunate and absurd but the reality is that thanks to moronic tax policies making the cost of legal cigarettes obscene a black market was created and our brilliant politicians have now made our police tax collectors leading to these inevitable incidents rather allowing them to do the job they were hired to do.

drblank's picture

when they strike twice within a short period of time. They probably made an assumption as to how long they have to pull off the heist, so they know about how long they have for the second time and since they are probably reading up on what they SHOULD take to make ti worth their while. The problem these guys have is unloading product since this stuff isn't so easy to sell on the market if it's hot.

I think what eBay, Craigslist, Audiogon and any on-line auction or classifieds should do is there should be a law that serial numbers should be photographed and shown and entered into the posting and that there should be a national database that people can look up stolen property where people can log what was stolen, etc. There should be stricter laws on posting used products on-line.

drblank's picture

covers any loss/damage from these events, but I agree, it's just a pain in the rear to deal with the aftermath, plus people feel very violated when they get stuff ripped off. Anyone that's had something stolen knows what THAT feels like.

I think they need to post really good video cameras and get stronger windows/grate or something to help deter theft, but unfortunately stopping a car/truck is pretty hard to do, even if they made the wall out of concrete.

Yeah, it sucks.

Maybe they should deal with these guys with the aid of some really loud piercing sound and high intensity flashes of lights to disorient the perps. There's got to be a way to at least slow these losers down. It's too bad they can't use sleeping gas and some dart throwers shooting darts. Maybe a couple of bouncing betty's. Oh wait, I think that's a little overkill.

rssarma's picture

I was recently speaking to the manager of a Hifi store in Ardmore, PA and he was telling me about how Hifi as a business for brick & mortar stores is getting harder by the day. Given the frequency and audacity of these crimes is it entirely implausible to consider some kind of insurance fraud to avoid going out of business?

cgh's picture

I agree with rssarma: these B&M guys have enough to worry about without being the target of repeated theft.

I wonder if it is related to any of the nearby ports that can be used to get merch out of the country quickly?

alexk's picture

I have no doubt that owning a brick and mortar Hi-Fi shop in Ardmore, PA (population 12k) presents its fair share of challenges, but SF is a completely different animal. There is so much money flowing through that city, with all of the tech and venture capital money from the valley, it'll make your head spin. I have been to both shops on a few occasions and I'd bet that these shops are doing just fine. Still it's a shame they have to deal with this B.S.

cgh's picture

My guess is that the logic with the Ardmore location, in addition to the chronography of B&M, has to do with falling on the main line. Similar to the Long Island railroad having lines out the "gold coast" of long island, there was / is money on these ~30 miles of line. Thing is, it's a bunch of old money wealth which is different than new money: first it comes from wealth and not wages, so it enjoys virtually no taxes (always pisses me off when people confuse wages and wealth). Second, and most germane, it doesn't get spent. So I can totally see a good B&M business in San Francisco.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Because trying to convert stock items into cash by "having them broken during an attempted heist" wouldn't get near full invoice value for the gear in question.

It is also unlikely when the shop then goes and makes repairs or improvements to the location.

When insurance fraud makes "sense" is when an unwanted asset or inventory burns down totally all of a sudden or when a large bulk of easily re salable merchandise actually does disappear. (The headphones case fits that more nearly, but I was suggesting earlier some employee helped or was coerced into helping a group of pros do that, not that the principals did it for financial/insurance reasons. That's what I meant by inside job, anyway. Who knows?)

The population of Ardmore is not the most salient fact. There's a lot of well off people scattered around Philly in order to escape the city tax...and for other reasons. That's a main reason why there are no high end stores in the city, too. If we're talking about the store I think we are talking about then it's more of a Tweeter, Etc., place, at best, than a "Lyric Hi-Fi" place. That could also play a role in its trajectory.

I agree that money out there is conservative compared to that in a big urban center. And the Democrats out on the Mainline are also more conservative than the ones in S.F. or on the Upper West Side. Hi-end audio has a tough road nearly everywhere but in those few, concentrated, urban magnet areas with money of high "velocity." Been that way for some time now, obviously.

John C Freeman's picture

Sad to hear this. I made a smarty comment in another post a few days about looking for sleazy people wearing high priced headphones. I did not mean to demean the loss that any retailer or manufacturer has suffered. Lets catch them, they might advertize on Craig's list also. Watch out there for high priced audio equipment. Sorry to also hear about Jason's scary experience in a Verizon Store.

JennMartin's picture

Good luck to them. Perhaps the good folks at Music Lovers should stay overnight in their stores for awhile.

Anton's picture

Serial stupidity to go with their avarice.

What do they do, sit around and say, "Dude, that last thing we tried to steal was too heavy, let's go steal something lighter this time."

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

First, this is just part of a larger crime wave in the Bay Area, up by about 30%.

Second, audio merchants should secure their glass windows better. There are numerous ways of doing this.

Third, this is the inevitable result of astronomical prices of audio gear. Retailers should have anticipated this. Jewelers, for instance, routinely remove their products from window displays at night.

Fourth, there isn't anything holy or special about audio gear. It's just loot, like any other.

corrective_unconscious's picture

It is hard to move physically, hard to move economically, has serial number and other possible identifiers, and would have a larger, immediate depreciation than other highly expensive things you could steal do.

That is probably why jewelry thefts are the stuff of movies, and high end audio thefts are not....

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Who fences this stuff? Who finally buys it? Does it go overseas, to Mexico?

Is this the impulsive work of meth heads needing money for a fix, like most residential and auto burglaries?

Am curious if the PD even takes fingerprints or investigates. You'd be surprised how little the cops do these days.

corrective_unconscious's picture

"Fourth, there isn't anything holy or special about audio gear. It's just loot, like any other."

I was pointing out that audio equipment is considerably less good, fungible loot than other loot.

Doctacosmos's picture

Same people knew to go through a different window. Bet it's a neighbor

Staxguy's picture

Given the Obama Administration's stance on immigration, and yet anti-gun how-have-you, would a Mexican with a shotgun at $10.10 / hour, be a legitimate means of theft control in the USA at large today?

It would cost a store about $3000 extra per month, which would raise the prices you pay, but if you're used to vacationing in Mexico, the sight of machine guns at local banks and shops, and armed men outside your condo entertance checking ID is part of the experience you enjoy.

Not to be daft, but it seems there is a fine line in the advance of liberal values to a wholesale deliberate dismantling of a work-based enthusiastic society.

The thug-robber seems to be lauded in the news as a protected class. Whole newscasts are wasted on the promotion of some anti society sham, and riots are perhaps even encouraged by the US administration. Anyone who seems to represent a successful example seem to be targets in the news.

The same has happened here in Vancover. We had a city riot in 2010, which was in large a promoted event by the national media, our CBC. Our mayor and police chief were held unaccountable for allowing damage to stores to occur.

Although we have a riot act, and in the past police would be so dense as to murder and harass peaceful striking workers, or tear gas peacefully protesting students for a G8, shameful, shameful, shameful, somehow those rioting are not treated as enemy combatants as they would be over-seas.

That is, stores are allowed to be invaded, buildings are allowed to be burned, cars are allowed to be over-turned, and fire-figheters are allowed to be beat on until near-dead or anyone else intervening in the "fun." :)

What is a city if it is allowed to be structurally destroyed?

It is one thing to allow shoppers to ask for a promotion. It is another to allow for them to riot and loot their way into dismantling of a way of business.

Excuse the diatribe.

Prices are low enough in high fi without asking for a 5-finger discount.

Joe Whip's picture

Staxguy, you get the award for the most ridiculous post I have ever seen on an audio site. Crime has been going on forever but yet it is somehow Obama's fault. I didn't know he was that old.

corrective_unconscious's picture

With you on that.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I've just learned that Tone of Music in San Francisco's Noe Valley, Future Sound in Burlingame south of San Francisco, and Elite Audio in San Francisco have also been hit in the last month. According to store owner Michael Woods, Elite Audio was hit the first week of February, also at 4 AM, by people who knew where the security cameras were and managed to avoid having their faces appear on security footage. They were in and out in 9 minutes.

"They pretty much destroyed our entire headphone section, including headphones and DACs," he says. "They also took two computers with all our digital music, a Jadis amp, a pair of Waterfall speakers, and more. They gave up on the Kharma speakers because they were too heavy, but got two Sony hi-res players, top-of-the-line Krell CD -- about $75,000-$80,000 total.

"It made me rethink how we operate as a store. They knew exactly what they wanted to get, and knew how long the police would take to get here. I slept here for two weeks while we were getting the glass door repaired. I figure that what happened to Music Lovers may happen to us again as well.

"I believe it's a ring. They robbed us in a red Prius, which I figure they stole. We couldn't get plates on it because there weren't any plates on it. My best guess is that it's a ring that is putting everything together into a container and sending it to Asia to be sold."

I'm now on the phone with Tim Nguyen of Tone of Music. His store got hit in early February, also around 4 AM. "Everyone was wearing masks and gloves, and the M.O. is very similar," he says. "They handled it somewhat like a bank robbery, and we probably lost the same amount as everybody else. They've already done a second lap with Music Lovers, so who knows where they will go next."

It is my personal hope that the investigation into these very similar robberies continues, and that the FBI steps in. If nothing is done, it is quite possible that this will spread to other cities, copycat-wise.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Are you kidding?

Want protection from the SFPD? Then turn the clock back 40 years, before politically correct quotas, when Irish male cops & detectives still had jobs.

Dr.Kamiya's picture

Are ads on audiogon even moderated? Can audiogon be held liable just because their service was used to fence stolen goods? If they can, then the same should be true for ebay and craigslist.

The best these commerce sites could do would be to take down the offending ad and provide any available details on the seller, but a smart thief would post the stolen item while only giving a minimum amount of detail on his location.

Allen Fant's picture

Thanks! for sharing- JVS.
Interesting times indeed. Let us hope this was not an orchestrated event(s) for insurance monies pay-out. Or, simply, an inside-job.

Bluejimbop's picture

I am a Bay Area resident and have had the pleasure of meeting a number of MLA staff members. They are real people with real human feelings, who no doubt, are reading this thread. You'd do well to remember that before you go off half-cocked and start throwing around terms like "inside job".

corrective_unconscious's picture

The headphones case was not entirely a walk in retail situation you could case as a member of the public, I don't think.

I don't see why suggesting there could have been an inside aspect should offend the owners or every staff member. They should be considering the possibility themselves.

It's true I said that the pure economics of that job would fit the profile of insurance fraud better than the simple, smash and (fail to) grab jobs at the other places. Perhaps you have a point that that was thoughtless on my part.

Bluejimbop's picture

Happy listening.

jgossman's picture

While his comments were a bit extreme, the extent to which his is correct about the political aspect is closer to spot on than people might want to admit. I'm a devout Republican and usually but not always conservative and live in a very liberal area of a fairly liberal city. While violent crime is, like most of my city very low (We have a VERY high rate of gun ownership where I live. Like most liberties, liberals tend to think OTHER people should be restricted in their gun ownership - for THEM the 2nd amendment is the bees-knees. But I digress.)

In general, more liberal cities are higher crime cities. Not because, unlike what some of my fellow conservatives would have you believe, liberals just love criminals so much they can't see straight. It's because the core left wing values leave them inept at dealing with the issues that lead to crime. That's too bad. They are still wonderful cities.

It's sad to see this happening in California.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Then liberal, gun friendly Philadelphia would have lower crime rates than very liberal, gun unfriendly Manhattan. It isn't true. The reverse is true by a huge margin, particularly in gun murder data.

I'm not up on the aggregated stats for crime in major, conservative dominated cities relative to other major cities, because I'm not familiar with conservative dominated, large cities. Large cities are always more liberal than their surrounding states (and usually their suburbs.)

Why don't you direct me to the statistical source for your claims?

Tsoomro's picture

Sorry to know about the increasing number of thefts in Hi Fi stores. May be the culprits are audiophiles who can not afford the high end stuff. The ever increasing price of audio equipment has attracted thieves to get their hands on such pieces. The only deterrent, is the weight of the equipment .