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VIDEO: San Francisco Chinatown Camera Shop Owners Fight Back Against Smash-and-Grab Robbers

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- After two years of barely scraping by without any foot traffic, the owners of a San Francisco Chinatown camera store breathed a sigh of relief when tourists finally started trickling back in -- only to get nearly robbed and attacked with hammers Monday.

It all started around 3:20 p.m. when a group of three teens walked in and asked about the price of a camera. They hung around for about three minutes and left, only to return about 30 minutes later.

"All of a sudden, they pulled out a hammer and they started trying to smash the glass," said shop co-owner Sergio.

The robbery attempt didn't go as planned; the cases behind the counter are plexiglass and wouldn't break. One countertop case made of glass did shatter, but that's when the attack turned from stealing cameras to swinging hammers at Sergio and his co-owner Ariel.

"One of the guys up there is trying to hit my partner with a hammer," said Sergio. "I run and I try to grab a bat that I have. Try to protect myself and my business here."

A neighboring business owner came running over with a sandwich board trying to stop the attack. He got hit in the head with a hammer and needed 10 stitches.

"One of the guys, they put the pepper spray in my eyes," said Sergio. "The other guy is trying to hit me with a hammer and I'm trying to protect myself."

Within about a minute, the attempted robbery and hammer attack was over. Co-owner Ariel is scared. 'We don't know them - but they know us because we work over here seven days a week," he said.

Both men, who have been in the camera business for 27 years, were nervous coming to work on Tuesday and are worried about what could happen in the future.

"We don't know these people. They know where we are because we cannot take this stuff and go," said Sergio. "But now, I'm worried. After this, I'm worried and I'm scared - because god forbid if they come back. Hopefully they not gonna come back. But if they come back with a gun, what happens?"

Monday evening, KPIX spotted groups, including the Chinatown Volunteer Coalition, patrolling the streets. Volunteers have done so since the rise in attacks against Asian Americans.

"Just talking to the stores when we do our patrols and our volunteering in general, a lot of them are scared in general. They kind of expect something could happen. They're worried, because the police might not be there in time, even when they are there, they don't know what could be done," said one of the members, who declined to share his name for privacy reasons.

The Chinatown Volunteer Coalition said robbers often first pretend to be interested in an item, only to return later on. That's exactly what happened with the camera shop on Monday.

"Sometimes people are deterred just by seeing sheer numbers, so there have been cases where we have seen someone look like they were going to attack or do something that's criminal, but because they saw us or other people around, they chose not to," the volunteer added. "Sometimes we have to yell."

In addition to making their presence known, the group is working with partners like Asians Are Strong and Tuff Love to host free self-defense courses to empower the community.

Betty Yu contributed to this report.

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