Greggs Furniture and Upholstery has called The City of Victoria home for more than 70 years, but as incidents of staff being attacked and property being stolen and damaged continue to increase, owner David Screech is starting to consider moving elsewhere in the region.
While the Government Street location has always had its encounters with graffiti, broken windows, and people setting up temporary shelters on the property, Screech said things have been escalating rapidly.
On Tuesday (Nov. 22) morning for example, Screech was alone in the showroom when he said a man came in and started yelling at him to clean the building’s windows, punching them as he left. On Monday, a fire pit was found set up next to the building, though fortunately not lit, and recently the catalytic converter was stolen off their delivery truck and the mirrors smashed, together totaling nearly $1,800 in damages.
Nearly every day, he said staff has to deal with more mundane issues like cleaning up garbage – sometimes including human waste – from the property, and removing people sleeping in the alcove in front of the store’s staff entrance.
But the really concerning incident came in October when a staff member was threatened at knifepoint after their car was broken into.
“It’s certainly unsettling for the staff members … and so by extension it has to become difficult for me because the staff are the lifeblood of the business,” said Screech. “What I’ve been thinking about more and more recently is how many people are not coming to our store now because of what is going on in this neighbourhood.”
Beyond the additional costs the business has had to cover for repairs and enhanced security measures like better exterior lighting, Screech said the incidents are also scaring off customers who don’t want to risk encountering any of these incidents themselves, especially seniors who often travel to the store by bus, requiring some walking in the neighbourhood.
Screech said he can’t describe the situation as anything other than “lawlessness,” driven by increased numbers of people living on the streets in the area. He said police do come when called, but they are only able to respond after the incident has been resolved, something he is understanding of given how busy police are in the region.
Instead, he feels the issue is more of a failing of the provincial government which is supposed to address the root causes of these incidents.
“It’s definitely the province; criminal justice, mental health, that’s all areas of provincial responsibility, and we have been hearing regularly from the province that it is not really as bad as we think it is,” said Screech. “But if you have a business owner this established in the city who is musing about moving the business, then it should make people notice and wonder what can be done to make the situation better.”