Steven Saleh, a 19-year business owner in Ballard, has been the victim of burglaries and a hate crime but wouldn’t dream of leaving his stores.
“Did it happen again?” asks a woman as she approaches the counter at Saleh’s Delicatessen, a north Ballard convenience store, with a couple of Cokes. She gestures to the boarded-up door a few steps away.
The man behind the counter nods.
“They got my other store, too,” he said.“Eventually we’ll be uninsurable.”
Steven Saleh says he’s been the victim of about two dozen burglaries in the 19 years he has owned convenience stores in Ballard.
Most of the time, he shrugs them off as the cost of doing business. Not this time.
In just over 48 hours between Friday, July 10, and Sunday, July 12, both of Saleh’s stores — Saleh’s Delicatessen on 24th Avenue Northwest and Northwest 80th Street and Iman’s Deli-Market at Northwest Market Street and 28th Avenue Northwest — were burglarized.
Saleh says that, on average, a break-in happens about once every eight months at Saleh’s; he’s had four in the five years he’s owned Iman’s.
A Seattle police spokesman couldn’t immediately say whether these numbers were unusual for a convenience store but did provide statistics showing that the number of nonresidential burglaries in Ballard stood at 24 so far this year, six more than the same time last year. Citywide, nonresidential burglaries are up 1 percent compared to last year.
Both stores have alarms.
Saleh found the cash registers that had been stolen from the two stores together at Dahl Skatespot, 7700 25th Ave. N.E., less than 10 hours after the break-in at Saleh’s, when someone called the contact numbers on the stolen property. The registers were found together, so Saleh assumes the burglaries were committed by the same person. Seattle police detectives are investigating both break-ins.
Between those two burglaries, Saleh lost about $10,000 in money and damage, and two days of sleep.
“When that call comes in at 2 or 3 in the morning, it’s the worst feeling,” Saleh said. “I don’t want to do it again.”
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Saleh has decided to put bars on the doors and windows of both stores, a step he’s avoided because he didn’t want the stores to seem uninviting. But it’s time, he said.
“If he has to put bars at the store, it’s not fair. It’s not his style,” said Rudy McCoy-Pantoja, a regular at Saleh’s Delicatessen who stopped by to offer his condolences the day after the break-in.
“We’re all one family in this neighborhood,” McCoy-Pantoja said. “He is someone who really cares about the community.”
At Saleh’s, the first convenience store that Saleh opened in Ballard, the owner knows his patrons by name and can identify them by the sound of their voice when he sits in his atticlike office above the store. He keeps an eye out for new beer and wine that he knows specific customers will like as he orders new products for his extensive alcohol selection.
If a charge is only a few cents over a dollar, he will round down, and he never refuses service to patrons who forget their wallet.
“I would love to make less money and have fun with everybody than make a lot of money and be miserable,” Saleh says. “This is my life.”
Saleh, 51, originally from Yemen, spends about 12 hours a day at his stores, most at Saleh’s Delicatessen. He lives alone and works to spoil his two daughters. One just graduated from high school in Michigan; the other is a college graduate who works at Procter & Gamble.
He started working in neighborhood groceries to help support his family when they immigrated to Buffalo, N.Y., 31 years ago. In 1989, he moved to Seattle with $600 in his pocket and ran a 7-Eleven in the University District for five years before opening Saleh’s in 1996 and Iman’s in 2010.
He sends money to his relatives in Yemen who have been forced out of their homes because of war. “It’s the least I can do,” Saleh says.
In 2007, Saleh became the victim of a hate crime after he refused to sell alcohol to two men who had come from a bar down the street. They grabbed him by the throat and called him a “terrorist,” among other names, before Saleh fended them off with a pipe.
After that, regulars of the business showed Saleh support — as they continue to do every time he is the victim of a crime.
Emily Cousins, who lives near Saleh’s Delicatessen, said it’s a shame when any business is burglarized, but Saleh’s hits close to home.
Her two children have both gone to school up the street, and she’s come to trust Saleh’s as a friendly place for them to stop for an afternoon treat.
“I just know if they come here, he’s got an eye out,” Cousins said. “I like this place.”
Saleh is tired of the burglaries. But he doesn’t ever have second thoughts about what he’s doing.
No “punk,” Saleh said, is going to “alter his life plan.”
“I have great customers,” Saleh said. “For a grocery store, it doesn’t get better than this.”
Information in this article, originally published July 20, was corrected July 21. A previous version of the photo captions incorrectly stated that Steven Saleh’s convenience stores were robbed. The stores were burglarized.