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A downtown Victoria jewelry shop owner says he and his staff feared for their lives when a man armed with a hammer walked in during business hours and demanded they hand over merchandise.

Rafal Zebrowski owns Francis Jewelers in the 600-block of Broughton Street and says the incident, which happened around 4 pm Saturday, left staff and customers shaking up and wiping away tears in the aftermath of something they’d never experienced before.

“We had a pretty traumatic experience when an individual came into the store with the clear intention of robbing us,” Zebrowski told CHEK News Sunday, standing in his store that’s emptier after the thief made off with stolen goods.

“I initially approached him, but after seeing that he had a hammer in his hands, I had to backtrack. I was afraid for my life,” he recalled.

“As your initial instincts rush through your blood, you want to protect people and your goods, but common sense prevails and you say, ‘Well, this is what insurance is for. Just back out.’”

Zebrowski says the backpack-wearing suspect walked in and used his bicycle to block the front door before asking staff to open a showcase, or glass display case, filled with jewelry.

“I told him, ‘I’m not going to open the showcase for you.’ Then he showed me the hammer, so I further retreated,” he said. “At the same time, one of my staff members started yelling, alerting the goldsmiths in the back. They came out and confronted him. Myself, I wanted to obviously do something.”

So Zebrowski grabbed the suspect’s bike and wheeled it outside the store, hiding it in hopes of disrupting any potential getaway.

“I returned to the store while two of my guys were fighting with him. By that time, he managed to open one showcase and take a few items, and he broke another showcase and took a quite expensive watch,” said Zebrowski.

“Then, he ran away.”

What remained were smashed display cases, shards of glass strewn across the floor and staff processing what just happened.

“Throughout this entire 30 seconds, or 40 or 50 seconds, he was yelling at us, ‘I will smash you. I will smash you,’” said Zebrowski. “That’s very telling why nobody would want to approach him. Just fearing for your own life.”

In a statement to CHEK News, Victoria police said they’re investigating.

“It’s still in the early stages of (the) investigation, and I don’t know if a suspect has been identified or located at this point,” said Const. Terri Healy around 10 am Sunday.

“We’re very happy with how the police reacted, and they’re certainly on a hunt for this individual. Whether or not he’ll be appreciated, time will tell,” said Zebrowski.

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Now, he’s just grateful no one was injured, despite attempts to stop the thief from looting the store. In security footage emailed to CHEK News, two staff members are seen on video trying to pin the suspect down using a chair.

“I’m very thankful to all our team members for putting up quite a brave action in trying to prevent this robbery. What could have been a very bad outcome turned out to be a less-serve outcome,” said Zebrowski.

“Something like this has never happened to us before, and we became frozen for a second. However, after a short while, we realized that there was something we could do, that there was something we’d like to do to protect ourselves and our merchandise.”

(Two staff members at Francis Jewelers in Victoria tried to pin down a theft suspect using a chair on Saturday, April 15, 2023. Photo supplied.)

Francis Jewelers, around for more than a century, used to operate out of a smaller store but in 2021, Zebrowski moved into the current 2,000-square-foot showroom.

“We’ve had a couple of situations back in the old store across the street, but none of them were violent. This one was,” he said. “In this incident, it was pretty powerful to see what these types of incidents can do to a human psyche.”

Zebrowski’s currently elements of the full extent of the damage or costs involved, but he is expecting his insurance rates to rise and says plans are now in the works to install a completely new, more secure entryway to his store.

“And that’s quite an expensive proposition, but there is no turning back from that. It will have to be done, and we need to bare the cost of it. Which is too bad,” he said.

The store was closed for the remainder of Saturday and all day Sunday but will be back open Monday.

“It’s sad that we’ve had an open-door policy in our store where the door was never locked, but that will certainly change and be in a dramatic fashion. That’s not the best for business because it may prevent some people from coming and enjoying our gallery, but this will be a necessary thing to do,” added Zebrowski.

“We simply have no choice.”

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