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‘If I were 25, I wouldn’t come to San Francisco’: Yet, after thieves took $100,000 of bikes, store owner says he’s staying

San Francisco Chronicle 3/29/2022 By J.K. Dineen

After nearly a decade of operating a retail business on the 1000 block of Market Street, Warm Planet Bikes owner Kash is not a guy who is easily surprised by what happens on the street.

Kash, who goes by the one name, has seen and heard and smelled it all: the incessant fentanyl dealing, the daily overdoses, the scams, the screams, the stench, the pop-up marketplaces of hot goods. Recently, an encampment popped up next to his shop and a guy was barbecuing and selling stolen meat.

Yet nothing prepared him for the early morning last August when he received a phone call from a construction worker who had walked by the long, narrow bike shop at 1098A Market St. and noticed that something was amiss. The sign on the door said, “Open by appointment,” and had Kash’s phone number, yet the door was wide open and it looked like the place had been ransacked.

Kash jumped on his bike and pedaled to the shop. By the time he arrived police were there, but it was too late. The store had been emptied of its inventory — $100,000 worth of electric bikes, folding bikes, cargo bikes, tools, wheels, pumps, tires.

“They even took the garbage and recycling bins,” he said.

The break-in came some three months before the smash-and-grab robberies late last year at the Louis Vuitton store in Union Square made national headlines. The value of the fancy bags taken from Louis Vuitton was roughly equivalent to what was stolen from Warm Planet. Yet Kash got none of the press or the additional police presence that descended on Union Square’s luxury shops.

For Kash, a veteran lefty activist who co-founded the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, it was heartbreaking. It wasn’t just that the thieves made off with his inventory of Urban Arrow and Bullitt cargo bikes and Tern folding bikes, it was that the burglars were followed by waves of opportunists who helped themselves to whatever their predecessors had left behind.

One beater bike was recovered at a homeless encampment and another at a residential hotel. Nothing else turned up.

“In a decent community, someone would see the gate open in the middle of the night and say, ‘Gosh that doesn’t look right,’ and call the police,” said Kash. “Instead everybody and his brother came in here and took what they could get.”

The break-in came after a three-year period during which the majority of retailers and restaurants along central Market Street closed shop. Huckleberry Bicycles, held up as a symbol of the Market Street renaissance when it opened in 2011, moved to Levi’s Plaza on the city’s northern waterfront. Next door to Warm Planet Bikes, the World of Stereo, which supplied turntables and speakers to DJs, moved deeper into the South of Market. Joining the exodus were the diner Homeskillet, Popsons Burgers, Equator Coffee, Pentacle Coffee, a CVS drugstore and several upscale bistros.

But, Kash says, despite the migration and the crime, he is determined to stay in the neighborhood and continue to help as many people as possible trade in their cars for more sustainable modes of transportation.


Video: San Francisco Set To Crack Down On Street Vendors Selling Stolen Merchandise (CBS SF Bay Area)

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“We have a customer base of wonderful people who maybe don’t have a lot of money,” he said. “Those are the people I intended to serve when I moved out of activism and into working as a bike shop.”

Kash arrived in San Francisco in 1985 and worked as a bike messenger. For years he ran the Bike Coalition’s valet parking service for Giants games and music festivals. Eventually, he opened a small shop at the Caltrain station on Fourth Street where he did repairs and sold folding bikes.

It wasn’t a coincidence that Kash moved onto Market Street, which, prior to the pandemic, was one of the busiest bike commuting thoroughfares in the United States. The street was “a traffic sewer” when Kash first arrived in town from New York and it took decades of advocacy and organizing to get bike lanes added and much of the street closed to private cars. He is proud of what Market Street has become and says it will get even more cycle-friendly when construction starts on the scaled-back “better Market Street” redesign.

“We won, and the day it happened I stood at my door and watched the bikes go by on a clear, quiet street,” he said.

Yet Kash is disillusioned with much of what is happening in the city — the crime, the cost of housing, the divisive politics.

He says there is a tendency among his fellow San Francisco progressives to “dig in our heels and defend” antisocial behavior just because right-wing commentators “are gloating” about it.

“It’s been unrelenting and grueling to watch as this neighborhood sinks to the bottom and good people without money move out and they leave the scammers and the criminals,” he said. “We want to be good and help people down on their luck. We naively think the way to do that is to be nice and that is taken advantage of. Being a caring person doesn’t mean being a pushover in the face of bad behavior.”

On a recent Tuesday, Warm Planet customer Adam Keats stopped in to pick up an Xtera Cycle he was having repaired. Keats has been buying bikes from Kash for nearly a decade.

“It’s not a company, it’s a couple dudes with a bike shop,” he said.

Keats said he was saddened by the robbery but not surprised. He was in the shop about a month ago when a guy walked in and seemed like he was about to “do a grab and run.” He refused to leave and it took both Keats and Kash to usher him out to the sidewalk. But shortly after that incident, a resident of one of the new apartment buildings that has opened up on Market Street walked into the store asking, “Hey, what is this place?”

“The guy said he was psyched to know there was a bike shop on the block,” Keats said. “Maybe Warm Planet will pick up some business from the way the neighborhood is changing.”

Kash could use the business. Even seven months after he was robbed, Kash has not been able to replace some of the inventory because of supply shortages. He is still open by appointment only, which cuts down on the number of troublemakers wandering in.

“Good people make appointments. I wish it wasn’t that way but that is the way it’s going to have to be for a while,” he said. “The hard thing is people don’t know I’m open because we keep the gate down. I have to keep reminding people that it may look like we are closed but we are here.”

After 35 years of fighting to make San Francisco as bike-friendly as possible, he isn’t going anywhere.

“If I were 25, I wouldn’t come to San Francisco — I’d go somewhere else,” he said. “But this is my home, so here I am.”

J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: jdineen@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @sfjkdineen

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