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Store owners on edge following robberies

BY?ERIN MCCARTHY
103rd/113th PRECINCTs

Santiago Arias had never been robbed in the nearly 29 years he’s worked in grocery stores. That is until last month, when his store in Jamaica was robbed twice.
Now, Arias has an employee stand at the door to keep a lookout each night. “Anything can happen, anytime,” said Arias, 65, who opened the Stop1 Supermarket on 110th Avenue in 2007.
The two robberies at Arias’s store are part of a pattern of commercial robberies that took place within the 103rd and 113th Precincts last month, police said. Many storeowners remain anxious and are beefing up security as the suspects remain at large.
Police are asking for the public’s assistance in locating and identifying the suspects – as many as five – who are described as young black males, between the ages of 16 and 20; 5’7” to 6 feet. During the robberies, they were seen wearing bandanna masks, hooded sweatshirts and gloves.
In all of the robberies, a group of young masked men entered small variety stores or grocery markets, jumped over the counters and held up employees and customers at gunpoint while stealing money and cigarettes, witnesses said. In some of the cases, witnesses described suspects coming in to check out the store first, and then returning with the rest of the group to rob the location after customers had left. The incidents occurred quickly, lasting only a minute or two, witnesses said.
Both of the robberies at Arias’s store, on January 11 and 23, followed the pattern. During the first robbery, three men, carrying guns and wearing masks, entered around 6:30 p.m., said Arias, who was present for both. The second time, four armed men entered just 15 minutes before closing time at 10 p.m. One suspect jumped over the counter and held a gun to Arias’s head until he opened the register. Both times, the suspects quickly exited the store and ran in different directions, he said.
Arias estimated that $900 was taken in total. He wasn’t sure why his store was hit twice, other than that it is on a quieter street. “I don’t know. I don’t bother anybody. I’m fine with everybody,” he said.
The penultimate robbery took place on January 24, at Rainbow Variety on 107th Avenue. Owner Musued Hussein, 27, was playing a game on his cell phone when he saw someone leap through a counter window. He dropped his phone, got past two other suspects standing near the exit and ran next door to call the police. The suspects escaped with about $400, Hussein’s cell phone and another new cell phone, he said. Now Hussein keeps the front door locked in the evenings, and he has updated the store’s security cameras.
The other robberies took place at the following locations: 110-02 Guy R. Brewer Boulevard on January 6; Duran Grocery on Guy R. Brewer Boulevard on January 10; Copan Deli at 108-55 157th Street on January 17; Deli Express at 109-18 Sutphin Boulevard on January 23; and Lantigua Grocery at 111-77 157th Street on January 24. The most recent incident occurred on January 29 at 160-07 107th Avenue.
Police ask that anyone with information about these incidents call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS, log onto www.nypdcrimestoppers.com or text TIP577 to 274637.

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