HAYWARD, CALIFORNIA -- One pair of outgunned would-be armed robbers fled downtown Hayward on Wednesday. But some store owners fear others will be drawn by a getaway-friendly empty parking lot nearby.
Two men walked into Avalon Jewelers on B Street in downtown Hayward on Wednesday afternoon and threatened one of the family-owned store's proprietors and an employee with guns.
What they didn't know is that Rod Vargas, another owner, was sitting behind a one-way mirror overlooking most of the store with a small arsenal at his side.
Vargas saw what was going on, grabbed his M1 rifle, and pointed it at one intruder's head. The two men fled without taking anything.
"He was looking right down the barrel of the rifle," said Vargas, 42. "If we don't fight back, we are encouraging crime."
After the ex-military man intervened, he called police, who were there within minutes. Officers scoured the area for the suspects, but couldn't find them.
Vargas said this was Avalon Jeweler's first brush with armed robbery since it opened in 1968. He blames the robbery attempt on the vacant building next door, which housed an Albertsons until November.
An empty parking lot on a large parcel no longer bustling with shoppers is a good escape route with no witnesses, Vargas said.
He's not alone in believing that a large, vacant parcel can attract unsavory characters and crime to downtown Hayward.
If something isn't done with the old Albertsons property, it could attract criminals who could spray graffiti and damage businesses nearby, said Steve Rubiolo, chairman of the downtown area's Business Improvement District and owner of Rubiolo Photography, across the street from Avalon Jeweler's.
Hayward police Sgt. Rick Camara said there have been numerous robberies downtown over the past six months. But despite downtown entrepreneurs' concerns, there hasn't been an increase in crime in the area since Albertsons left the building for a new store a few blocks away, police said.
"I think time will tell," Camara said. "The only problem we anticipate at this point (with the vacant building) is maybe some homeless people breaking in and using it as a place to sleep."
Another potential problem is people rifling through trash and recyclables, said Scott Raty, the president and CEO of the Hayward Chamber of Commerce.
Raty said he would like to see a business move into the building. The city has contacted some major retailers, including Borders Books and Music. Albertsons still owns the lease.
City officials have expressed an interest in taking over the long-term lease, said Albertsons spokeswoman Stacia Levenfeld. There are at least 15 years remaining on the lease for the property, which is owned by Paul Paulsen.
Mark Abramson covers police and public safety. To reach him, call (510) 293-2469
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