Eco Pure Water in Williams Lake is one of the self-serve vending businesses in town which have been targeted by thieves. (Ruth Lloyd photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Eco Pure Water in Williams Lake is one of the self-serve vending businesses in town which have been targeted by thieves. (Ruth Lloyd photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Persistent break-ins frustrating for Williams Lake self-serve businesses

Will this be the end of vending?

Eco Pure owner Steve Phillips just wants to catch the guy.

Eco Pure experienced three break-ins late last year which damaged the vending machines at the Williams Lake water business.

The first break-in resulted in $1,000 damage to a steel door and damage to the machines, which prompted Phillips to make some security upgrades.

But even with the presence of cameras and video footage of the incident, thanks to the use of a mask, hat and gloves, the RCMP were not able to identify a suspect.

“The only thing showing was his eyeballs,” said Phillips.

Phillips believes the person responsible had scoped out the business and knew not to look up at the cameras and came equipped with a pry bar to gain entry.

A second break-in attempt was unsuccessful, after more had been done to reinforce the door.

However, a perpetrator was successful on a third break-in on Dec. 9, using two pry bars, according to Phillips.

The perpetrator also broke into the back room and took the security camera recordings of the break-in.

The damages from the third theft amounted to $20,000.

While Phillips has had to access insurance to cover these costs, supply chain delays for parts have left the business unable to accept coin-operated self-service.

But Phillips did not want his customers to be impacted by these delays in repairs, so the business has been offering free water to clients since the break in and until the machines can be fixed.

It could take up to two more months for the repairs to be completed.

Phillips remarked on how much effort it would have taken to force the machines open to access some coins and to enter the back of the facility.

“If you put that much work into actually working at a job, he’d probably do quite well.”

Phillips is offering a $500 reward for any information which leads to the arrest of a suspect in the case.

Down the street, another self-serve water business, Cool, Clear Water, has a note posted on their vending machines to vandals.

“Dear vandals & robbers… all monies are emptied daily & nightly. All monies are rerouted to a safe inside the building. You are on camera & being watched from my home. We have armed ourselves with a silent alarm for good measure.”

Manager Cathy Rosner told the Tribune there have been three break ins at the business. Despite the first one being caught on video, it was still not possible to confidently identify a suspect.

After the second break in left the business with only one operational vending machine, she worried about their customers over the holidays being able to get water and hired a security company to do regular drive-bys. The night after the security coverage ended, the last machine was also broken into and damaged.

It took the perpetrator almost an hour to access the machine by smashing each button.

“While he only got a very very small amount of money, he damaged the machine to the tune of about $400,” said Rosner. It took over a week to get parts to repair the machines, so she ordered more to be prepared.

“I’ve made it so they cannot get any money at all,” she said. But Rosner still fears the machines will be targeted until those responsible realize they cannot get any money.

She is grateful she is able to provide service when the machines are down during her store’s open hours and there are other aspects of the business which can continue to provide some revenue.

Another business owner, Ben Peterson, who operates three local car washes in town, also has had significant losses due to thieves breaking into cash boxes.

Sledge hammers taken to bay doors, vacuums and coin boxes may have netted a few coins for thieves prior to the installation of new technology and business procedures limiting any cash available, but they amounted to as much as $25,000 in damages to a bay.

While damaged wash bays are out of service, the lost revenue adds to the loss to the business.

“It’s very, very, very frustrating,” said Peterson.

Peterson said that new debit and credit card machines and no coin boxes after hours in their bays, plus the one facility having a system which keeps all cash away from the bays has meant a decrease in machine break-ins in the past year.

He also had success with security footage and RCMP response leading to some perpetrators being arrested and charged.

But in the four years since it became a significant problem, Peterson estimates there have been anywhere from 10 to 15 incidents, and the cost in repairs has been in the area of $35,000.

Grateful to be experiencing a lull, Peterson hopes the worst of it is over for his businesses.

“But it’s not just me,” he said, empathizing with other business owners who see these kinds of impacts on their bottom lines.

The Tribune reached out to Williams Lake RCMP for comment but did not get a response prior to going to press.

Read more: Property crime offences on the increase in Williams Lake

Read more: Mounties make arrests, issue warrants for others after rash of crime in lakecity

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