Community steps up for Vancouver coffee shop hit by robbers

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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With warm weather and no customers yet, Toque Coffee barista Kayli Becker enjoyed the slow early morning hours of Easter Sunday.

She opened the garage door to let some fresh air in, waving to a friend who rode by on a skateboard. A regular customer stopped in about 7:30 a.m. to get her morning caffeine fix.

"We had just talked about how life throws funny things your ways," Becker, 23, said. "We share a lot of stories and she's a really great motivator to accept things and learn from them."

Moments later, Becker would be putting that advice to the test.

After she posted a picture to the coffee shop's Facebook page, inviting egg-hunters to enjoy a coffee drink, Becker saw a shadow.

"My first reaction is to pop up and say, 'Hi hello, how may I help you?'" she said.

But looking up, she saw that the man who entered was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and a "Scream" mask on his face. He pointed a gun at her.

"I start freaking out and I start crying. I said, 'please don't hurt me,'" Becker said in an interview this week.

He ordered Becker to give him the cash in the register and she fumbled with the keys as she opened the till. Then, the masked man forced her into the walk-in cooler. She wasn't locked in, but she waited and pounded on the door to make sure the masked robber was gone.

A little while later -- it could have been one minute or five minutes, she said -- Becker exited to find the man, the money from the till and her purse gone.

"I'm not a scared person all the time," she said. "But when you're not sure if they're going to pull the trigger, it's extremely scary."

Having grown up in Vancouver, Becker was surprised to learn just how common robberies are.

The city has had an average of 14 robberies each month -- nearly one every other day -- according to data from the Vancouver Police Department that dates back to 2005. In 2012, the agency took reports of 182 robberies.

Police say that most of those robberies occur at businesses, turning employers and employees into victims.

"The whole thing is disheartening that a person would do that," said Torque co-owner Ryan Palmer. "It's not just the monetary loss, it's lost time, lost sleep; you lose so much."

He is paying Becker while she takes some time off and is donating his tips from the week to Becker. The community also stepped up to help too by bombarding the store with business to raise money during a "cash mob" Wednesday. Food cart Mighty Bowl also donated some of its proceeds from sales on Wednesday to Becker.

Going into his second year of having the café, Palmer said it's too early to factor losses like these into his budget.

While robbers typically don't get away with too much cash, companies largely see the effect of robberies in the amount they spend on prevention.

For example, banks such as Riverview Community Bank spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on preventative measures such as surveillance and employee training.

But even with security measures in place, robberies still happen.

Kristi Franklin, owner of Discount Tobacco and Beverages in Hazel Dell, had all the necessary precautions in place when her store was robbed Jan. 2.

The robber was in and out with money from the till in 29 seconds while she sat in her back office.

"It's such a feeling of being violated," she said.

The best way that most businesses are fighting back? Keeping their doors open.

"We're not going to let the bad guys win," Franklin said. "We're not going to be defeated."

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;emily.gillespie@columbian.com.